From around 2010 to 2015, I had mostly lost interest in Star Wars. So, by the time TFA was about to come out, I wasn’t particularly hyped, but I was optimistic that the movie would be good. All my friends were talking about seeing it. The trailers looked good. The early word of mouth was glowing. So while I wasn’t bursting with excitement in the months leading up to release, I was starting to feel more positively about Star Wars again. I rewatched my old GOUT DVDs for the first time in years. I enjoyed looking at the new merchandise in stores and speculating on the state of the galaxy and what roles the new characters would play. And eventually, my family set a day to go see it. I was nervous that I wouldn’t like it, but I went in already fully believing that the movie was good, and that all there was left to do was for me to simply enjoy it.
I didn’t like it. I thought the dialogue and humor were obnoxious. I thought the acting was mostly underwhelming (through no fault of the actors). I thought the pacing was far too frenetic, especially in the third act. I thought the worldbuilding was cryptic at best. I thought the fanservice was mostly shallow and hamfisted. And I thought the new characters were largely uncompelling. I was enjoying the movie for the first half hour or so, and was fully ready to get invested in these new characters, but somewhere around the time the Falcon or Han showed up, I started to become detached from what was happening on screen.
The character I was by far the most invested in was Finn. I liked him, and was really looking forward to seeing his journey as a defecting Stormtrooper. And I was intrigued by the whole mystery set up surrounding both Kylo and Luke. So, I was disappointed when Finn started to slip more and more into “comic relief sidekick” territory, acting like a well-adjusted, joke-cracking average Joe who gleefully guns down his own former comrades (despite the death of one of those comrades being what broke his brainwashing in the first place). And I was also disappointed that Kylo, a 29-year-old grown man in the guise of a Dark Side warrior, who had a fairly strong introduction at the start of the movie, turned out to be a pathetic, sniveling, emotionally stunted brat. His tantrums in TFA are played almost for comedic effect, and by the end of the movie, watching him flop around pathetically in the snow, I had no interest in the character anymore. As a villain, he was useless, and I felt no sympathy for him, so he failed in both those areas. Snoke was lame and uninspired, as well, and Hux was too young and emotional to be a truly threatening enemy general.
The First Order and Resistance were dull factions, and the state of the galaxy was poorly explained, so I had no investment in the wider conflict or premise, either. Han Solo’s death was both extremely predictable and laughably bad. (What kind of hero’s sacrifice is it to have your hero’s lifeless CGI corpse fall down a bottomless pit? That’s a death for a villain, not a hero.) And by the end, once I realized that Finn was going to stay in that coma and not become a Jedi, my last bit of interest in the new characters was gone. All I had left by the end of TFA was my curiosity about Luke. I held my breath. I wanted so badly for that last scene to make the previous two hours worthwhile. It didn’t.
At the time, I thought I was the problem. After all, the film was getting rave reviews. All of my friends said how much they loved it. Maybe, I thought, I just couldn’t enjoy Star Wars anymore. TFA had all the surface-level trappings of classic Star Wars, so I should have enjoyed it, right?
I do think the film was very polished and pretty, though. Visually, it was very well put together, and the special effects were top notch, obviously (they do have a boatload of money, of course, so this is expected). And the actors did the best with what they were given. The cinematography was quite nice to look at. The color grading was vibrant and appealing.
Then came TLJ. Over the two-year gap, my state of mind about Star Wars veered near complete apathy. I couldn’t bring myself to care, and I thought Star Wars just wasn’t for me anymore, but I still planned on seeing the movie, partly out of curiosity, partly out of a lingering sense of obligation. I had heard beforehand a couple vague rumors about some controversy over a thing Mark Hamill said in an interview about Luke. I went into the movie with low expectations, but still a little hopeful that the story was heading in a worthwhile direction.
I left the theater depressed. Any lingering feelings of investment in Finn’s journey were stamped out by his being made a fool of in his first few scenes. Watching the scenes of pathetic, cowardly, family-abandoning Luke Skywalker were viscerally uncomfortable to watch (and his logical argument for why the Jedi should end is complete nonsense). Poe was made unlikable. Rey was made even more overpowered and less likable. The film, despite being praised as “bold” and “new,” was still heavily derivative of the OT to the point of plagiarism, with the most original parts of the movie (Canto Bight, Poe’s mutiny, etc.) also being the worst. The film reeked of nihilism, recklessly deconstructing what came before while failing to reconstruct anything of value in its place. And while the film sometimes toyed around with interesting ideas, in the end, it failed to commit to them in any meaningful way.
Rian Johnson knew that Snoke was a nothing villain, so he killed him off, but did he really expect us to take Kylo Ren seriously as a solo villain? After it had been established how incompetent, whiny, and nonthreatening Kylo was? And it’s not like TLJ even tried to build Kylo up to be threatening again. TLJ went out of its way to put Kylo beyond redemption, while not bothering to actually make him a strong villain to go along with his new role. So, what was Rian expecting Episode IX would actually do? All that was left to happen was: “Rey defeats Kylo Ren and the First Order.” That was all there was left to see (which makes it all the more baffling that Reylos gush over TLJ so much. The movie goes out of its way to make Reylo not happen). And It was never the “wide open” ending people described it as. TLJ’s ending tries to railroad the story on a particular path, all while cutting off or ignoring many potential plot threads. It fails both as a second film in a trilogy and as a penultimate film in a nine-part saga, and was just a miserable slog to sit through.
I do think the acting was good, though. Mark Hamill and Adam Driver gave great performances. Carrie Fisher was excellent. Andy Serkis did a good job as Snoke, and I thought John Boyega really grew into his role. The special effects were once again great (though not quite as good as Rogue One, in my opinion). The cinematography was some of the best yet, and Rian Johnson is an amazing visual director. As I said before, the film toyed with some interesting ideas and themes that sometimes grabbed my interest briefly. So overall, it was a more engaging, thoughtful film than TFA.
Then came TRoS. There’s not much I can say about this one that hasn’t already been said. I watched it out of morbid curiosity after already hearing all the negative word of mouth surrounding it. It was amusing. The special effects were pretty, and there were some nice shots throughout the film. I liked finally having the new heroes all together working as a team and getting to all have chemistry together. The plot was mostly filler nonsense, and it was clear the writers had mostly just thrown it together, but I thought it was entertaining for what it was. It was fun seeing the great Ian McDiarmid back in his role, also.
I still hated the treatment of Finn in this movie. It was marginally better than the first two, but with most of his side plot from the early drafts of the film having been deleted, he had very little to do besides act concerned about Rey.
Also, Reylo is completely disgusting. The fact that Lucasfilm and Disney market Rey as an ideal role model for young girls, while also pairing her up with the creepy, mind-violating, mass-murdering, authoritarian snake who’s ten years older than her, and having her kiss him for briefly being good, all while trying to wrap the romance in some language about a destined “Force dyad”, is deplorable.
I feel bad for saying all this. I feel bad because of the people who devoted years of their lives working on these movies, who did an amazing job bringing these films to life. The cast, crew, concept artists, designers, and special effects artists all did an amazing job, and deserve nothing but praise for their great work.
The Sequel Trilogy is excellent in every category, except for writing. That’s the sad part of this. They had their chance. They had the original cast back. They had fan goodwill. They had the best artists, designers, and technicians in the industry. They had a clean slate to tell whatever kind of new story they wanted. And this is what we got.