I think I agree with most of Tom and Kelly Wand’s criticisms of the movie. In particular, the basic concepts of “gotta find help and sneak in to disable the McGuffin before the big ship destroys the fleet” and “Luke gives the remaining Rebels time to get away” are both good ideas, but the setups are so clumsy that you don’t get a good sense of the urgency and the stakes and the pacing is all wrong. And it sucks that Luke and Leia didn’t get any more screen time together than that.
Nevertheless, for all it’s faults, I had a great time watching this movie and as I think back on it, the clever and thoughtful bits stand out more than the fumbles. It won me over early on with:
- Poe’s baiting Hux with that ridiculous stalling gambit. I thought it was funny and congruent with some of the antics Han used to pull (like pretending to escort Chewie into the prison block where Leia is, trying to bullshit his way through a report to command, and then just shooting the mike).
And I really loved the idea of Poe, an Ace Pilot winning a big battle–but in a way that is possibly a losing move in the war. And the way it emphasized the difference between Leia being a General and the hotshot pilots who are usually the most important heroes.
- I admit I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, and I particularly never really liked Luke. But I love Mark Hamill, and I get the sense that he’s had a pretty ambivalent relationship with the Star Wars franchise. So when he takes that light saber and chucks it over his shoulder like a piece of trash, I was pumping my fist and yelling, “NICE!” (figuratively) And him practically rolling his eyes at the prospect of a “laser sword” battle with Kylo at the end was a perfect bookend to that. And whatever the logistical problems of getting there, I loved that Luke was able to save the day without compromising his determination not to leave the island and without killing or even harming anyone. Which was so nicely set up with Luke not leaving footprints, dodging rather than fighting, and the weird way he just shows up at the rebel base.
And there was a whole lot more that I liked. All the beautiful ways they used that white/red salt planet – clues about Luke, the crazy-but-convincing monoski stabilizers on those rickety ships leaving those gorgeous trails, the thing Tom mentioned about it looking like blood so it seems like the Order has pounded Luke into a red paste with their crazy overkill attack.
I loved how Kylo’s psychic battle with Snoke is based more on dialogue and character than posing, grunting, grimacing, and FX. Kylo feels Snoke in his mind and feeds him exactly what Snoke craves: Kylo’s purest Dark intention to turn his saber and strike down his enemy. (He even starts to swivel the saber he’s holding to illustrate the deception.) He gets Snoke salivating for it so much it’s all he can pay attention to. And then Kylo gives it to him.
And for all the nitpicks about how Laura Dern’s sacrifice is set up, damn I did not expect Star Wars could ever make me gasp like that at watching a big space ship blow up.
And I liked (and it felt kinda like Empire Strikes Back) that almost everything the Rebellion tries is a failure, including Rose & Finn’s mission, except for the unlooked-for victory of inspiring a new generation of Rebels. Rose was a great character (especially her initial confrontation and disillusionment with Finn). The humor mostly worked for me.
I’m also with Tom in thinking the moment when Kylo can’t bring himself to fire on his mom, but then his wingman does it anyway was amazing. How much is that gonna screw him up, that his mom is dead, but he couldn’t do it? It doesn’t play out that way, but that moment was still great.