Like Rogue One, I waited until a second viewing to give my impressions of the film. A lot of what follows is speculation and we'll never have the inside story. With that, here it is, the good, the bad, the ugly and my own 2 cents:
- Dialogue - for the most part, much improved over Rogue One.
- The initial premise of the story as the second act in a trilogy.
- The Themes - this is a trilogy about legacy, no more, no less and it fits in that sense - “We are what they grow beyond” - Best line in the movie.
- Mark Hamill as Luke and Carrie as Leia - well done
- I love Ach-To and all the locations.
- The new big three - Ray, Finn, Poe are great – That’s JJ and Kasdan.
- Luke’s death scene - he’ll be back for IX.
- Luke was actually in character as he was at the end of Jedi - he faced his nephew, but would not fight, was willing to die rather than fight, just like with Vader in ROTJ.
- Luke was too flawed, I can see him being reluctant, but not as portrayed, he was defeated and pathetic - dare I say emasculated.
- Rose and Kylo - eh. Kylo is not iconic, he was more so in TFA. He looked like a phantom in that.
- Canto Bright as it plays in the plot - I thought this was going to be the Eyes Wide Shut moment of the saga (minus all the ritualistic BS). It even screamed Kubrick to me as the warm casino lights were similar to the Christmas party lighting at the opening of EWS and the alien faces/costuming looking similar to the masked, secret ceremony figures in EWS. It could have played like Bond observing Blofeld's secret meeting in Rome just as in Spectre, yet similar to how Kamino was portrayed as a mystery element in AOTC. Finn and Rose could stumble upon, witness and unravel the riddle behind who those people are and what they do as it relates to war profiteering. Not as a high-class cantina scene that seemed rushed, silly and ends abruptly up in a prison setting. The chase scene with the Fathiers was lacking too.
- Holdo - Her role should have been given to Ackbar, period. He deserved a legend’s exit.
- The Droids - even BB-8 was delegated to a role of little importance. That black, BB-Hate guy is on the theatrical poster yet practically a non-entity in the film. I also thought the BB-8/scout walker scene was over the top and sloppy.
- Alien Continuity - This was a problem with TFA as well, the lack of rodians, Zabraks, etc. creates a disconnect with the other films. This is not a reboot, it’s a continuing story.
- The Score - No new iconic leitmotifs or themes, all rehash. The score sounds great. I purchased it release day, but still mostly rehash. I read this as problems in editing that made it hard to score.
- DJ - I like the idea of the character, but how the character was realized, stutter and all was bad. How can you give this characterization a pass and say you hate Jar Jar’s and his dialogue (more on this in a bit)?
- The actual story as it played out - This screamed of too many hands in the pot - or too few on the same page, thus a corporate Disney movie, not a Lucasfilm Production. Many scenes were on the nose. Maybe the backlash against TLJ will cause everyone to scatter and JJ can do his thing with Bad Robot. JJ has more clout and everyone tends to back off. Also, the Bad Robot team gets it, TLJ was not made by the same team. Do yourself a favor and look at the crews for both films on IMDB and the credits to their names. I think it says a lot, especially editing and cinematography.
- The Editing - If people find the cinematography was great (I feel TFA and R1 was by far superior btw), it was chopped to hell by the editing. It seemed awkward and rushed to me and needed to breath more. Just plain choppy. To me these issues scream of mis-direction resulting in missed beats.
- The Directing - RJ may be a good filmmaker, but he doesn’t get the orchestration of sound, music and movement that goes into the saga films. I think this also contributed to the editing issues. RJ will get away with this in his own trilogy, but not the Skywalker saga. His film is the fish out of water.
- The orchestration of sound and music with the visuals - Again, TLJ lacked this completely. It’s beats and pacing actually seemed more like a LOTR film than a Star Wars/Space opera film. Again, JJ and the team at BR gets this. JJ is also a composer, so he gets the musical/rhythmic nature of the beats in these films. AND BEN BURT is part of Bad Robot’s team! I missed Ben Burt on this.
- Yoda - The premise and dialogue were great. The puppet looked like a bad Illusive Concepts foam maquette from the mid 90s. I would have gone with the ROTS CG version and fixed the force ghost effect a bit. This scene also exhibited bad choices concerning camera placement and editing.
My Own 2 Cents:
- How I felt after the credits rolled - I have not felt this demoralized at the end of a screening about a beloved film series since I left the theater on Christmas Night, 1990 having seen The Godfather Part III. There were things in the movie that worked. I was spoiled going in, but even more excited to see it all realized cinematically and for me it just did not work - especially in the editing/pacing/story beat departments.
- My 12-year-old daughter’s reaction - She loves these movies, especially TCW and Rebels. She left unsatisfied and somewhat disappointed, this had nothing to do with Luke dying, the movie just doesn’t play to the story premise. TFA plays! She loved it, so did I!
- The SJ/PC stuff - I too, sensed much larger amounts of on the nose, PC subtext injected into this film. Most all the male characters were weak, selfish, flawed and two dimensional while all the female characters were not. This will hurt the franchise in the long run because it is only going to get bolder, louder and more apparent until they realize one thing - it’s polarizing. GL’s films were unifying because they were able to present universal themes across a broad and simple story, allowing for depth, interpretation and understanding. TLJ is just the opposite. It is anything but non-threatening, and very evident in it's subtext. I’m still wondering how deep KK’s influence plays in this or if it’s all coming from Disney.
On this note, please Disney/LF, don’t float the idea that certain members of the SW fan base should feel guilty or question themselves because they need to catch up to the progressing narrative as presented to us. This too, is polarizing. I don’t get into politics, but unless I’m missing something it is coming across as a very pretentious message from a major production company through the megaphone of the press. Not cool.
- When my daughter and I got home from the theater we watched The Wrong Jedi/Ahsoka Arc of Clone Wars together on Netflix (Season 5). While it's animation and not live-action, it blew this film away, like so many of the CW story arcs probably could. This is a tribute to GL, Dave Filoni, etc. It was pure, cinematic, poetry in motion. A breathtaking, simple story with tension and top cinematography to match. Much better than this film, and a pure, bonafide Lucasfilm production (the last to be called such). I really think those days are gone now. These new movies and shows should be regarded as the cinematic version of the expanded universe. It’s becoming generic.
- Maybe it’s all in my head, but I think Mark Hamill, Dave Filoni, Benicio Del Toro and some others saw the writing on the wall regarding this film. Just watch that red carpet premiere. The energy was not the same as for the last two Disney SW films. I think they knew going in to that premiere that things were off base and the film missed the mark on SOME story beats. Mark Hamill has been both direct and cryptic about it. I wonder if he was even given the courtesy to consult, collaborate or give some input regarding Luke’s character arc during the writing and production stages of this film? This is the million-dollar question and the answer would say a lot! I also read somewhere that DR broke out in tears of joy when she heard JJ was coming back for IX. What does that tell you?
- Miss Uncle George yet? And on this note, a few last thoughts:
I have seen so many examples in TLJ, R1 and TFA that could warrant the same level of criticism thrown at the Prequels from the media, the industry and the fans, but have yet to receive any. BB-8 driving the AT-ST with Rose and Finn sitting atop it was worse and more video game-like than any CGI I saw in the prequels. Where is the backlash? DJ’s stutter compared to Jar Jar’s dialect, where’s the backlash? A nine-year-old boy destroying the Trade Federation control ship was rehash of Luke destroying the Death Star - but Starkiller base? Very little backlash and much of it dismissed. The prequels were made to sell toys - but the Disney/SW films? Where’s the backlash? It's called group think, and it's a trinkel-down effect from the top.
It's worth mentioning a fact which I’ve come to find few are aware of, nor understand its full implications. George Lucas and Lucasfilm were self-sufficient except for distribution. They were essentially NON-UNION before being owned by Disney. This is a story that goes way back to the fines levied by the DGA over the opening credits of ESB against Lucas. However, being PRO-UNION goes a loooooonnnnngggggg way in tinsel town. Now with this in mind, go back and consider the Hollywood/media backlash against the prequels and in some respects even as far back as ROTJ. See the pattern? See how it works?
Today it's practically the opposite. Should you criticize the Disney/SW films to any extent, YOU will be seen as having the problem (that's means you, the "haters") or YOU must “move on” with the progressing narrative or risk being dismissed and ignored. Again, it's polarizing. The end result of such a strategy will be Lucasfilm/Disney corporate getting itself off the hook and continuing with its' own agenda. In the end, it's one thing to criticize the films, another to criticize your own fan base. As the saying goes, find out who or what cannot be openly/fairly criticized and then you’ll know who’s running the show. These films are now UNION products. Hollywood products. It's a different quality of filmmaking and a different standard of publicity that goes with them - It's part of the machine now.
I saw ANH in 1977. I was 5. I love SW. I love the Prequels, the OT and especially the TCW. Rebels has improved over time. Twilight of the Apprentice was AMAZING! When Anakin called out to Ahsoka through his cracked face-mask it was downright HAUNTING! The best SW since TCW, period. Unfortunately, the series is about to end in a somewhat quick and abrupt fashion. Dave Filoni was/is a student of GL and it shows in everything he does. I wish he became the caretaker of the franchise. He gets it for what it is and the standard of craftsmanship it requires. He has shown again and again that he can build on the timeless & universal nature of the IP without bending it into a soapbox in service to a particular zeitgeist capable of marginalizing particular "groups" of fans.
I agree with Mark Hamill, people should have listened to George more regarding the ST. I read The Art of TLJ and TFA. The concept art shown from Lucas’ treatments seem far more intriguing and compelling than what we are getting now. My biggest fear is that he is now so far removed from having any influence that we will get even more PC subtext/product placement/corporate-imposed content & story beats than the great, personal, cinematic storytelling we once had. I wonder if he regrets selling?
I was at the 30th anniversary screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark in Hollywood (Sept. 2011) and Steven Spielberg made two statements during the Q&A that have stuck with me ever since. The first was that George was hurt on a deep, personal level by the criticism thrown at him and the prequels. The second was that George (for all his quirks) is a once in a lifetime occurrence in Hollywood and there will never be another George Lucas.
Read into that what you will.
Moving forward, here’s hoping an old school director/filmmaker like Ron Howard can show how it’s done.