Unlike the previous two, I wasn’t hyped at all for this movie. For one thing, there’s been a lot going on in my life and it crept up on me after finals and getting thrown back into work after coming home. For another, I’m so disappointed and disgruntled with TLJ that it was hard to get excited about a movie that would either be similarly disappointing or at best a haphazard apology for or complete reversal of TLJ. It kind of was the latter, but, well, I started writing this as a shortish bullet-point summary for letterboxd and it turned into this mini essay where I was able to flesh out why I still love this movie, despite it being quite imperfect. So here you go, and I’d love to discuss in the comments. =D
Obviously, this has all the spoilers.
(Also I dictated this late at night & I’m lazy so there will be typos. My apologies. =P)
I think this movie was the best possible way the trilogy could have ended. For continuity’s sake, I hate how disconnected this movie is from TLJ, how the whole trilogy feels like a tug-of-war between two different directors and two different perspectives on Star Wars. But then, I hated a lot of TLJ so if this movie is disconnected from it, that’s not a bad thing for me.
For example, it’s jarring how few lines Rose has in this movie compared with the last one, but since I’m already annoyed with her for saving Finn, I don’t miss her for her own sake.
Or, the big issue, the difference in how Rey’s parentage is presented. Yes, the idea that anybody could be a Force user is cool (which, let me point out, Abrams does explore with Finn in this movie, which I LOVE) but the whole point of these trilogies is that they center around the Skywalkers. No, Rey is not a Skywalker by blood, but she becomes one through legacy and choice and the values she aligns herself with. If she was merely a nobody, she probably wouldn’t want to take the Skywalker name. She’d be proud of being a nobody who can use the Force. But because she is the opposite of a Skywalker, there is motivation to change her name.
And that’s my favorite thing about this movie and the choice to make her a Palpatine: It’s one thing for a nobody to be a Jedi. It’s another for a Palpatine. It proves that there truly is no darkness that can overcome the light. We are not defined by past failures or lineages or family names or the situations we are born into. There’s no more powerful way for the idea that good always wins and is always stronger than evil than for Rey to be a Palpatine.
Yeah, I don’t love the logistical problems her existence creates, although I suppose it could make sense if Palpatine was married or at least, ahem, involved with someone before he revealed himself as Darth Sidius, like during Phantom or something.
I’m more upset that Palpatine himself came back because it feels like everything Luke did is for nothing. That glorious happy ending in RotJ feels like it has been cheapened now, and I don’t like that.
If we’re on stuff I don’t like, I don’t like that Chewie survived. That would have been so powerful, for Rey to have inflicted permanent damage like that, to have actually killed one of her friends and one of the legendary rebels of the future generation she so reveres. Sure, she thought she had killed him for a little bit, but if she actually had, she would’ve had to work through the consequences in subsequent days, and that could have been really powerful.
Not to get on a tangent, but I wonder why so few stories these days actually kill people for good. I’m thinking of Marvel and Frozen II and now Star Wars. Is it because they are afraid of fans? From most reviews I read, fans actually want people to stay dead so that things have more meaning. Is it because they don’t feel like dealing with the hard issues of characters working through loss and sorrow and guilt? Is it for money, so they can make more movies with those characters? I don’t know, but I wish it would change.
Speaking of people surviving, or not, I like that Ben died because a) finally a permanent death and b) he ended up sacrificing himself for a good cause, for the cause of his parents. It does seem to be a problem that he used his life force or whatever the technical term is to bring back Rey and she didn’t do the same for him. It seems rather mean or selfish of her, but then, he probably would have just reversed it. You could think of it as her honoring his sacrifice. It’s certainly what he would’ve wanted her to do. I think there could be a probable explanation for how giving someone your life energy works—maybe it can only happen once or maybe she was closer to life than he was and so he was too far to bring back. I’m sure there could be an explanation, I just wish they gave one.
BUT all that to say, I loved Ben’s arc. I love that he was redeemed. I wanted him to turn before the end; I didn’t want him to die in the Dark Side. To be honest, after the last movie I wasn’t feeling quite as charitable. I was wondering if his willingness to kill his mother and uncle showed that he was past redemption. But I’m glad I was wrong and that my original desire for redemption was fulfilled.
I loved Leia’s part in bringing him back and Han reappearing to him. That moment with Han was moving, especially with its echoes of the scene on the bridge. And speaking of Leia, I love that it’s confirmed that she was training to be a Jedi (!!). And her reasoning for giving it up—and her acceptance of Rey even though she knew she was a Palpatine—man, Leia is a true queen.
To counter two criticisms I’ve heard: first, that the journey to find the Wayfinder was pointless. To me, it was the exact opposite. We got to see Finn, Poe, and Rey interact; we met Lando who is later important in the final battle; Rey and Kylo Ren talked multiple times, revealing her identity, the tensions Kylo Ren was feeling, and setting the stage for the way their more-than-just-telepathic link works. It placed Rey in multiple situations where she struggled with the possibility of using her powers for the Dark Side. It was the opposite of Rose’s and Finn’s jaunt in TLJ, which truly was purposeless and revealed nothing new about their characters.
The other criticism is that it’s just the same old plot as RotJ. You can’t deny that, but to me that’s not a bad thing. In fact, that’s the whole point of this new trilogy. It’s a new generation and new characters but it’s the same story, the same struggle. They are fighting the same darkness, not only that vast malevolent force as manifested in the Sith, but, in Kylo Ren’s words, the dark side that is in our nature. Anakin succumbed to it, Luke saw a vision of it on Degobah and ultimately was able to defeat it, and now it’s Rey’s turn. I love getting to see a new generation of heroes—my heroes—have to learn the same lesson and face the same darkness.
Okay, Palpatine Force-lightning-ing (is that a verb?) the whole armada was overdone and the whole thing didn’t feel dire enough because, ironically, they had made the stakes so massive. It was a heavy dose of telling, not showing. Sure, Palpatine says there’s no hope but come on, it’s going to be fine. (All those ships showing up was cool and Dunkirkian, though.)
The climax as a whole felt overdone and jumbled and like they kept throwing sensational stuff at us that I’m not sure actually makes sense (like, how can we be sure Palpatine is dead this time? What did Rey do that being Force-lightninged by oneself and thrown down a huge pit didn’t do the first time??) BUT two of my favorite moments and two of arguably the best storytelling moments occurred in it so I can’t be too upset: 1) all the Jedi speaking (it was so cool after the movie to hear people in the theater discussing which voices they had recognized) and 2) when Rey handed Ben the lightsaber. Not only was that the culmination of their telepathic link, but it was like the perfected version of their fight together at the end of TLJ in the red room, which was so cool and gave us a glimpse of what it would be like if they fight together. Of course, Johnson ended it with a twist like he did with just about everything else in that movie, but now we finally get to see what it looks like done right.
Now for some smaller notes:
Finn was woefully underused, which made me sad. I did love his conversation with the other ex-stormtrooper. I wish more had come from that. I kind of don’t like that a new character was introduced right at the end, but she was cool. And, man, this exchange is powerful. It resonated so much with my faith:
Finn: The Force. The Force brought me here. Brought me to Rey, and Poe.
Jannah: You say that like you’re sure it’s real.
Finn: It’s real. I wasn’t sure then, but I am now.
Zorii is great and perfect for Poe, and I’m glad he and Rey didn’t end up together (another thing I’m glad I was wrong about).
Just Poe’s arc in general—I loved seeing him learn how to lead and finally get it right. This was actually a good point of continuity with TLJ. In that movie, he learned how to be a good follower, and in this one he learns had to be a good leader.
Also, am I wrong in assuming that what Finn was going to tell Rey when they were sinking in the sand was that he was Force-sensitive or something about him being able to sense the Force and that it had brought them together? That’s just what I assumed but then lots of people have said it wasn’t resolved so maybe I’m wrong.
And the theme that we are not alone, that there are other people scattered throughout the galaxies who are willing to fight if someone leads them …
Last thing, the festival was cool and made me remember why I love the Star Wars world.
Basically, there are a lot of potholes and it does borrow a lot from RotJ and we have to suspend our disbelief for some of it and some characters are sadly ignored, but it’s the themes in this movie that to stand out to me and overcome my criticisms.
Redemption, for even the worst offender, and true repentance.
The unconditional love of parents that forgives even the worst crimes and inspires their son to carry on their mission.
Learning to believe in the Force.
The truth that we are never alone.
Facing our fears and the darkest parts of ourselves.
The idea that all the Jedi live within us, thousands of generations of them—it reminds me of the hall of faith in Hebrews 11 and the idea that past generations of Christians are cheering us on and that we are part of a greater story, a greater community, a great shining line of weak-but-strong warriors.
And, of course, the idea that we get to choose our names, what legacy we will adopt, no matter our background or who people say our identity is.
We interrupt this movie review with some spiritual musings; hang with us.
It reminds me of some thing one of my favorite Instagramers said. She said how we talk about our identity is important. We are not sinners who are Christians; we are Christians who still sin. For Rey, she is choosing not to think of herself as a Palpatine who calls herself a Skywalker but a Skywalker who used to bear the name of Palpatine. Skywalker is her idenity, not Palpatine. Maybe I’m drawing the comparison too far, but it was inspiring to me.
OK, back to the regularly scheduled programming.
Last musing: When Palpatine threw Ben down the pit and called him the last of the Skywalkers—obviously he isn’t, because there’s Rey—but that’s the cool part, because it reminds me of how in TLJ Luke was called the last Jedi, and there was that awesome scene (one of the few I actually liked in that movie) where he says “and I am not at the last Jedi,” and then it switches to Rey. I love both those scenes because I love how the bad guys think it’s the end and they think it’s over but it isn’t.
Because you can’t ever quench the light.