Hi Hal, here’s another review. Warning; I got a bit carried away…
I loved TROS when I first saw it, and though that impression has soured considerably as I’ve looked at the film more critically, TROS: Ascendant represents for me the best possible improvement for this film without resorting to drastic re-writes/re-structures. I loved this edit to bits, from the major changes to the small touches, and since I honestly don’t know where to start, I guess I’ll just go through the film chronologically.
Right off the bat, the re-arranged opening flows so much better than the original film. Letting the film introduce Palpatine rather than dropping him in the text crawl is way more effective, and the single change of making the cloned Snokes into cloned Palpatines makes his survival significantly clearer, and far more sinister. Transitioning from that to Rey training is a much more effective flow, and Rey’s new vision was awesome (the quick interconnected flash of her and Palpatine’s lightning was super cool). Going only then to Finn and Poe’s mission, with the removed out-of-place chess game, slows the first act down very effectively. Using Palpatine’s speech to replace the maligned “Somehow Palpatine returned.” was also a great touch, though I do feel the speech could be a bit louder.
The many small changes in the subsequent sections were all great; Kylo’s newly independent vision and consequent reforging of the mask was especially compelling. The polished Pasaana sequence was very nice, especially the toned down line from Lando’s chauffeur, and here we also meet one of my favourite changes from this edit; the Knights of Ren speaking. I was frustrated by how much of a nothing they were in the original film, but these few lines of dialogue go a surprisingly long way to making them feel more present. Kuruk’s “I get his teeth.” (Yes I know all six of them by name I’m a nerd) was a brief but very effective characterisation of the Knights as a whole; contrary to the conflicted Ren, the Knights are hunters who enjoy what they do. Removing the immediate reveal of Chewie’s survival also definitely helps, especially if you missed the second transport shown in the wide when Finn sees him captured.
The same as Pasaana, Kijimi was very effectively polished. A small touch that got a smile out of me was Zorii’s muted response to Poe, it just made the whole scene read much better, and characterises the two of them very well. Kylo’s altered dialogue to “You were right.” definitely helped in terms of continuity and logic, but though it’s close enough to pass for Kylo’s voice on its own, next to his real masked voice it’s pretty clear that it sounds different; the accent doesn’t quite match, and it feels more flat. Are there any plans to retouch this line for future versions? I did also find 3PO’s replaced dialogue as they’re flying to the Destroyer (“And I will be your protocol droid.”) a bit weird, felt incongruent with the scene. I also felt his interaction with the trooper was quite clunky, though that’s moot as I see that’s on the list for V2.
Moving on from Kijimi, the recontextualisation of the crash to be on Endor was cleanly executed, and made the Ewoks’ cameo feel less egregious. The Falcon did appear to be moving quite slowly above the trees, though. Another one of my favourite overall changes comes from this sequence: the overhaul of how the Sith dagger works. Not only is this so much more logical than the impossible compass (only a Force-user/Dark Side-user could use the dagger, which raises a genuine mystery about what Ochi does and doesn’t know, what exactly Palpatine’s orders were), it was seamlessly executed; the specific placements of the whispers made it immediately clear what was going on, such that a first-time viewer would assume that was how it always was. Very nice. I also looooved the brief touch of Duel of the Fates during the duel; I’ve seen videos that add a full score to the scene, but the duel’s lack of music has always been one of my favourite aspects of it, both aesthetically and thematically. This brief, non-intrusive motif hit the perfect middle ground, and was a great addition. Adding that quick shot of Han’s medal was also a great touch; I always wondered where that trailer shot went, and it works well here. The re-ordering of Rey’s healing of Kylo felt more natural, and really highlighted the actors’ great performances in that scene.
Removing the destruction of Kijimi, as well as the planet-destroying nature of the Sith Fleet, definitely helped the film, even if it did hurt the pacing of this sequence a bit (this is unavoidable though). I also really loved Rey and Luke’s trimmed conversation, it feels so much more organic than before, and really highlights the themes at play in the scene. And the change of Leia’s saber to purple was just BEAUTIFUL. I read a while ago about Carrie Fisher’s preference for a purple saber, and I immediately wondered why they didn’t grant it considering how much else they did to honour her throughout the film (probably just because blue is more basic and matches Luke’s saber), so this was an awesome change to see in live-action. I will say I think I can spot some leftover blue colouration whenever Leia’s saber clashes with Luke’s, but maybe it’s just my imagination, and given the complexity of the VFX it’d be totally excusable.
And now to the finale, which might be my favourite part of the edit. I loved everything from here to the end of the film, especially the new colour grade. One of my favourite small touches was again the lines from the Knights; Ushar’s sarcastic greeting of Ben was great, and Cardo calling him “Traitor!” genuinely got a laugh of joy out of me, such a great touch (on a side note I’m not 100% that those are the ones who were speaking, just going off the order they appeared in). The mass of voices when the new fleet arrives made the whole scene so much more powerful, though I do feel the “For Skywalker!” charge slightly lacked emphasis; maybe some more emphatic voice lines could help?
The defeating of the Emperor was simply awesome. Adding Leia’s trailer line to conclude all the Jedi voices was such a good touch, one I was surprised to remember wasn’t in the original film, and holy goddang it were those four ghosts awesome. It just concludes the film and the saga as a whole so much better to have these five greatest of Jedi work together to defeat Emperor Palpatine, and it also makes it much more visually clear what’s going on. When I saw this for the first time I do not exaggerate when I say I was jumping in my seat.
The denouement of the film was great. Moving the chess scene to Tatooine is not only a far more appropriate place for it, it just makes the ending so much more heartwarming. I watched that scene probably half a dozen times back-to-back just because it made me smile so much. It also concludes the trilogy so much better, with the new trio, Chewie and the Falcon united. The double rainbow over the house was a great touch from the documentary. And for the every end: seeing Ben alongside Luke and Leia was just perfect, fixing as best as possible the glaring problem of TROS that we never get a time to mourn Ben; Rey’s new delivery of the final line was so much more powerful than the old one, even if it was admittedly a bit too visually clear that it wasn’t from the finished film; and the very final shot of the film with the new music was a far, far better close to the Skywalker Saga.
Needless to say, I absolutely loved TROS: Ascendant. It’s what TROS should have been from the start, and will absolutely replace it for me on subsequent watches. (Additional thought written a short while after the bulk of this review: The biggest overall accomplishment of this edit, for me, is giving the film a more compelling beginning and ending. Those are the two most important parts of any film, and though the middle parts of TROS are to an extent unsaveably messy, the improved opening, climax and denouement of TROS: Ascendant leave a much better taste in the mouth overall).
This edit, and the rest of the 9000 Saga, are truly awesome pieces of work! They genuinely made me interested in SW again after the ST’s divisiveness and the drama over Lucasfilm, The Mandalorian and Kathleen Kennedy started driving me away. You’ve all done an awesome job, and I can barely wait to see the future versions!