Warning! There are a few spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the film you might not want to read on. If you do, well, it’s on your own head.
This is one of the trickiest reviews I’ve ever written. Normally when I come out of a movie I have strong feelings one way or another, but the latest in the Star Wars series left me somewhere in the middle. Perhaps it’s a movie that a second viewing will clear up for me, but that will have to wait, this is my initial reaction.
The action picks up pretty soon after the events of The Force Awakens. After decimating the Republic’s forces the First Order is in ascendancy, hunting down the resistance and wiping them out. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads an escape attempt during which pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) disobeys her orders, while he succeeds in destroying a major enemy ship, it comes at a heavy cost, with many ships lost.
They escape through hyperspace, but somehow are followed. Poe is demoted and Leia criticises his gung ho, glory hunting ways. Low on fuel the fleet is pursued by the First Order. New commanding officer Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) keeps the ships out of range but the enemy is still on their heels, and Holdo refuses to elaborate on her plan to Poe.
Meanwhile, Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) has tracked down Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) so that she can train her in the force and that he will return with her to inspire the resistance. However, she finds that the former hero is incredibly reluctant, jaded and embittered. Can she win him round?
She also discovers that she has somehow formed a connection with her nemesis, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Skywalker’s nephew and a strong, dark Jedi. She senses reluctance and remorse and begins to wonder if she can lead him back to the light.
Back at the fleet, Rey’s friend, and former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) realises that Rey will return to the fleet and be killed. He decides to escape with the beacon Rey will home in on, however, he is stopped by Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), an idealistic rebel who’s sister died during Poe’s raid. She is disgusted by his cowardice, but then both work out how the First Order tracked them and how to escape. This does mean they need to get aboard and hack an enemy ship. In need of a codebreaker they work with Poe to slip away from the fleet and return with the man they need in the few short hours the fleet has before they run out of fuel and are sitting ducks. When they return the system will only be down for mere minutes, meaning the fleet must jump to hyperspace immediately.
Can Rey learn the ways of the Force? Will Luke change his mind and leave his self imposed exile? Are Finn and Rose going to be able to disable the tracker in time? And how will Poe ensure that the fleet is ready to make a tight escape?
Here’s the thing, this movie is very good fun and there are parts that work remarkably well, however, there are other parts that fall flat and it lacks that certain something to rank it with the truly great movies.
One thing that works is that the script is loaded with humour and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, and some fast, clever dialogue. Similarly director Rian Johnson (Looper) handles the action side of things with aplomb and the space battles are magnificent and gripping. There’s also a multi character lightsabre battle which is pretty ace.
So, if I was amused and thrilled in places why am I not raving about this movie? Well, for starters, the film squanders its ticking clock aspect. Finn and Rose supposedly only have 12 hours but their story feels baggy in places and lacks the urgency and tension which should come easily. It also feels like they have to do quite a lot in that time, and the inclusion of a lazy coincidence is too easy.
That being said, at least it is carried by Boyega and Tran, who have easy chemistry and entertain as the duo. Boyega’s Finn is probably the standout hero of the new films, more fallible than Rey and less self assured than Poe, he’s a regular guy who fights his own fears and tries to do the right thing.
It would be easy to dismiss Rose as a cute, adorable character, and that is a facet, but beneath her cheeriness is a determination and dedication to the cause. I loved her interactions with Finn and how their relationship develops.
I’ve heard some people don’t like the character, but for me she was great.
What didn’t work for me was the Rey-Kylo Ren stuff? While the Luke Skywalker part works, and the jaded Jedi is a solid performance from Hamill, Rey is remarkably dull here.
The bond with Kylo Ren feels rushed and they grow very close very quickly. Also, she seems kinda dumb in her willingness to believe the latest version of a story she’s told- Luke tells her about Kylo, then Kylo contradicts, then Luke clarifies and each time she accepts this latest one as being completely true.
And she rushes off to help Kylo in a move which is clearly a mistake.
But the other aspect that meant it didn’t work for me is that Kylo Ren is a weak character. He mopes about like an emo teenager and when one character dismisses him saying “you’re no Vader. You’re just a child in a mask” it feels a bit too close to the truth. If he is conflicted it’s hard to tell from a lifeless performance by Driver and I don’t really care. He killed Han Solo, redemption isn’t on the table for me.
Later developments in this story feel rushed and as if the writer is taking shortcuts, and it’s only thanks to a final battle and the return of Luke Skywalker that salvage it from being a bit of a dud.
I should write about the third plot strand with Poe and Holdo, but this has flaws too. Clealry this is supposed to be a story of Poe learning that not everything can be solved by fighting and that he doesn’t always know best but it’s undermined by the fact that his irritation with Holdo is entirely understandable. When asked about her plan she is vague and it feels daft that his decision not to blindly follow orders on limited information is supposed to appear rash and foolish. Surely it shows good sense and free thinking?
Anyway, the whole film is a bit of a mess and a frustrating watch. The promise of a cracking movie was there but too much seemed rushed or underdeveloped. Perhaps the burden of fitting the story into 3 movies is what led to this movie. It feels like they tried to cram in too much.
It does provide a good exit for Hamill as Skywalker and he impresses. Similarly Carrie Fisher is great as Leia and it’s cool that we get a glimpse of how strong with the force she is. Her death was sad enough, but there now feels like there’s unfinished business and that Leia will be deprived the ending that was originally intended. Hopefully, however they can do her justice and the dedication screen hit me hard.
It feels that the first of the new films was a farewell to Han, this to Luke and one guesses the third would have been Leia’s film.
Apologies for the review, I know it doesn’t flow well, a side effect of it being written in several parts and me stilk trying to work out how I feel about it.
Verdict: A mixed bag and a frustrating experience, with the sense of missed opportunities and unrealised potential. Some of it works brilliantly, but there are far too many misses. Decent and fun, but underwhelming. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Firstly, the good news, this is no Phantom Menace, and despite the hype surrounding its release this movie works and fits with the original Star Wars trilogy in terms of tone and story in a way the prequels never did.
Set many years after the victory over the Empire the story finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing and the Republic is in trouble from the threat of the First Order who seek to return the Empire. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) despatches her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to recover a map leading to Luke’s location. On the planet Jakku Poe gets it but the Order catch up with him.
He sends off the details in his droid BB-8, before being captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) the dark Jedi who works for them. During the attack on the village the civilians are slaughtered and stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) who refuses to go along and is horrified.
He aids Poe in escaping, and Poe names him Finn. They crash and wind up back on Jakku, separated. Finn finds BB-8 who has been found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who scrapes by on Jakku. Finn pretends to be in the resistance and they flee aboard an ageing ship they find at the junkyard.
The ship turns out to be the Millennium Falcon and they are soon tracked down by the former owners Han Solo and Chewbacca (Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew, respectively). Finn just wants to get away to safety, while Rey, despite her desire to join Solo and travel the galaxy, feels she must return to Jakku to wait for her family to return.
But both find themselves drawn deeper into the resistance and have to decide what role they will play. Will they join the fight or run? What is Kylo Ren’s link to the original characters? And where is Luke?
For me this movie really worked, because it successfully bridged the gap between Return of the Jedi and this new trilogy. The old faces do their jobs well, particularly Ford who exudes the same roguish charm that made Solo a favourite and Fisher, who convinces as an older, slightly jaded Leia.
Their relationship hints at the difficulties that developed after the Empire fell and that it wasn’t the happy ending they hoped for. In their scenes together they capture a realistic sense of a couple divided and reeling from hard times, but still deeply in love.
But what gives a new hope (sorry) is that the new characters work well. Rey is a tough, resourceful heroine and the main character, and Ridley makes her likeable and easy to warm too. It’s also cool to see her stand up for herself and reject Finn’s well-meaning, if sexist, attempts to protect her. Throughout she appears capable, independent and a true hero.
Equally strong is Boyega’s work as Finn, as he manages to capture the former Stormtrooper’s inner conflict, with the character having to fight his instinct to run to do the right thing. He also has serious comedic chops and gets most of the film’s laughs. Oscar Isaac is the least used of the three, but makes Poe a swaggering, self assured hero and he shares good chemistry with Boyega.
The villains do well too, with the First Order capturing the menace of the Empire with a hint of fanaticism which makes them more dangerous. The other strong point is that Kylo Ren clashes with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), hinting at divides and that Ren doesn’t have the reputation or standing that Vader held in the Empire.
Ren, who’s been plastered over the merch does make a solid villain and his lack of control makes him distinctly different from Vader and his raw anger makes him unpredictable. The back story reveals more and sets up some of the film’s key moments.
It’s not without flaws, some of the plot points have been seen before and a few events are easy to see coming. The final attack is almost an exact retread of the attack on the Death Star.
One character’s speech about “the same eyes in different faces” feels like a lazy explanation for repeated ideas and characters acting like others.
But JJ Abrams does his job well and the characters feel more real and natural than anything in the prequels and there’s genuine humour and thrills. MWF was more impressed than I was, but I still left happy and keen for the saga to continue.
Verdict: Abrams makes this more fun and engaging than the prequels and the balance between new and old faces is about right. Some of it gives a feeling of déjà vu but for the most part it succeeds. It has warmth and a sense of scale which will please old fans and win over a fresh generation to the series. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.