| January 13, 2020
After chewing on this for a bit, I am just going to make a list of things I feel about the film. And I will look forward to added such issues from others.
Let me start with the couple of things I loved in the film. I loved the “They win by making you think you’re alone. There’s more of us,” moment. It is what Star Wars is all about, really. It doesn’t completely make sense, but in movies, we forgive things that may not make sense when they make our hearts soar. The other beat I loved was when Finn shows real emotion, not just earnest concern, toward the end. This is not a gear we often see from John Boyega, though I have seen it from him in real life. And when he lets down his guard, it is quite moving for me.
But enough about the good stuff.
What is with the Star Trek-y opening sequence? I can’t even describe fully — after one viewing — why it struck me as so Star Trek. Perhaps the idea of the planet in the foreground holding still as the camera zooms around it, like Star Trek? Star Wars doesn’t have that visual relationship with objects in space. And indeed, it stops playing that way after the first sequence. But… oy… it took me out of things early.
I don’t really believe that Lucasfilm or Disney or JJ Abrams are racists who felt they had to erase the blossoming interracial relationship between John Boyega’s Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico. But they did just that. And worse, they teamed Finn up with a new female sidekick, though there is almost no trace of romance, Naomi Ackie’s Jannah. This leans into another classic movie sin, in which black people only really connect with black people, which is absurd on its face. There are other angles one can take on this. But in a movie with very few black characters, the pairing of the two of the three most significant in this episode seems, uh, obvious and oblivious.
What in God’s name happened to Harrison Ford in the last couple years? He actually looked like he has had a stroke and they did all the make-up around that. And Mark Hamill, who as far as I can tell has been healthy, also looked kinda horrible… like he shrunk two inches and put on 50 pounds. Carrie Fisher looked as one would expect… though for me, having Billie Lourd in a high percentage of shots with her real-life dead parent creeped me out. I got the idea of loving homage, but yick.
The f-ing Kylo Ren helmet. All that care and attention brought forth to fix his helmet and they had to stitch it together with red? Really? Made no sense, except as a new toy.
The new powers. I didn’t mind when The Force started working as a walkie-talkie or when Rey could move a pile of rocks or Luke astral-projects himself in front of Ben Solo. But grabbing a transport out of the air? Teleportation? Healing deadly wounds? Does The Force turn you into Baby Jesus?
And speaking of all the new powers… Rey comes perilously close to being Superman in this film. Given the things she is capable of doing, why is it so hard, for instance, to get to the tracker on a platform in the middle of the massive seas that everyone else is scared of trying? She can pretty much fly. She can throw herself a far distance. Really, she could have just parted the seas… but that would have been ridiculous… but it would have fit the ever-expanding array of superpowers. By the end, it was the end of The Matrix, as Neo finds his full powers inside The Matrix. Superman. Super wrong for Star Wars.
New Creatures = New Toys. Every other scene doesn’t have to be the new Mos Eisley Cantina. I expect some new creatures in every Star Wars, but this just felt like the Disney Licensing Department creating enough new product to get over the year’s absence of the franchise.
Likewise, Celebrities. I would watch Richard E. Grant read the phone book. Literally. Love the guy and how he brings an originality to the most banal moments. But what is he and Keri Russell doing in this movie? I would have been fine with Keri Russell’s character being voiced by her if she never opened the mask. But JJ couldn’t resist. And Grant is, like a “Law & Order” second-act villain reveal, too big a name to just be another guy on the bridge of the ship. I adore Domhnall Gleeson, but while he has done amazing work, he’s still “that guy from…” Grant ain’t that. I wanted to be in the Star Wars universe for a couple of hours… not getting surprised by celebrities. And the Greg Grunberg/Dominic Monaghan thing… I get that you are loyal to your old casts, JJ… but stop it! Star Wars, not “was that…?”
The jokes. Some were funny. Some were very funny. But damned if the need to have a clever quip right on the edge of every dramatic twist doesn’t distract and undermine all of those dramatic moments. It’s like a hyperactive puppy that wants to lick your face, which is adorable for the first hour or so and has you asking your friends if they want to adopt a very loving dog by Day 2.
I wanted to love the turn of Kylo Ren back into Ben Solo. But aside from making it a gimmick to explain the death of Leia — she just gave it all up — I wasn’t terribly convinced. And what was the connection between Rey and Ben, really? They aren’t related. They aren’t really in love. I mean… What happens when an angry, sad child finally grows up and realizes how much damage their irrational rage has done? (It struck me during the movie that Ben really became Kylo Ren in response to having that giant schnoz when the parents had perfect petites.) This guy killed both his parents, when you think of it. These are huge story pieces. But they just became blended into the good ol’ Star Wars story of the moment.
The Old Palpatine Switcheroo. This is actually two switcheroos, both of which I hated. Switcheroo #1: “Your parents were nobodies… because they wanted to be.” You are really Palpatine’s granddaughter. Oy. But even more than the shock of the WTF is the kind of “so what?” about the whole thing. One of Rey’s parents (I forget which) had Force powers, but was hiding out, not fighting their evil dad? And then dad killed the parents and Rey was hidden. And she can’t remember because… I never got a clear idea of why, especially since she kinda remembers. Does Rey show any signs of her genetics, aside from having The Force? Does everything have to be a funhouse mirror reflection of Luke and Leia’s story?
Switcheroo #2: Once Rey ends up with Palpatine and is told he is gramps, Palpatine tells her that his life force is going to go into her and she will rule the universe. But she isn’t cooperative, so he decides to suck the life out of her and Ben Solo so he can be young again. But why wasn’t that his plan from the start? When was he thinking, “I could suck the life out of those kids and be young for decades more, but I would prefer to give over power to the young woman who I never met before and who has been fighting the dark side for three full movies!”? Waaaaaaa?
All of this leads to something else I hated… Skywalker rises because Rey gets a name change? She doesn’t even get a tramp stamp with, “Ben Forever!” What if she changes her mind again? And of course, going into that moment of decision, the movie doesn’t let the audience consider the option. She is a Palpatine. She is, maybe, in love with a Solo. She could have gone with Rey 3PO or Rey2 D2 or hell, Rey Windu or in a feminist move, Rey Organa. But the rise of the dead Skywalkers is because some girl took their name without asking? Couldn’t they have called it “Palpatine Rises?”
As we get towards the end, JJ is throwing everything at us he can. But the thing that made me instantly want to punch something was an entire fleet of ships with the planet-killing power of the old Death Star(s). WHAT?!?! For 8 movies, we have been in the perpetual pursuit of stopping the ONE Death Star (and the next and the next and so on…). If JJ wanted to change it up and, for instance, make a ship with the power of a Death Star but smaller and faster and able to jump in and out of warp… okay. But all of a sudden, there are 50 or more ships, each of which can destroy a planet? Come on, man. Don’t even get me started on how the rebels can realistically take on all of those ships… but then, they can’t… but they can as soon at the Falcon shows up. (And as I mentioned in the spoiler-free review, Lando has a giant grin on his face as they come to save the day, but there are shots where people are dying and that kind of charming smirking feels wrong.)
Have I mentioned that I almost did spit-takes when the Porgs and the Ewoks showed up? Or when Rey traded up to her Lady Speed Saber? (That was an idea I like… but it was just done so poorly.)
Good starting list…
Addition 12/20 11a – “Wait, now they fly?” This is an old screenwriters’ trick. When you want to do a bit that you know will surprise the audience because it doesn’t really make sense, call it out openly. In this case, it is the Royal Guard suddenly having Boba Fett-style flying backpacks. Why do they have them? It doesn’t really add much to the movie, except more targets. But ya gotta sell those toys!!!
| January 13, 2020
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"Remember that every time a man commits a violent act it only takes one or two steps to figure out how it’s a woman’s fault, and that these dance steps are widely known and practiced and quite a bit of fun," writes Rebecca Solnit. "There are things men do that are the fault of women who are too sexy, and other things men do that are the fault of women who are not sexy enough, but women only come in those two flavors: not enough, too much, and it is the fate of heterosexual men to endure this affliction. Wives are responsible for their husbands, especially if their husbands are supremely powerful and terrifying figures leading double lives and accountable to no one. But women are now also in the workforce, where they have so many opportunities to be responsible for other men as well."
January 16, 2020
“If I’d stayed in Hollywood, I don’t think I’d have a career right now. I don’t think I’d have my voice. So I’m happy that I chose that, to come through basically 10 years of slugging it out in New Zealand. By the time I made Thor: Ragnarok, I was still sleeping on my friend’s couch here in L.A., and by then I was very sure of who I was and very confident in the stories I wanted to tell and how to tell them."
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| January 16, 2020
“I felt like my film had been studied in semiotics class and they had been given the task of ‘Remake this.' Nothing was left untaken.”
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January 16, 2020
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