Many things to say about the movie, which I haven’t seen again since my first watching.
I Agree with NFT, while totally disagreeable and quite excessively compelled to say something about issues of today, TLJ felt like it came from a honest place. Yes, it has integrity, regardless of wether that integrity is placed in the easiest and most superficial approach on state-of-the-culture discussion. However, and besides Holdo, and other eye-rolling stuff like it, I think this movie puts forth the most fundamental flaw TLJ had, which is to make the trio of protagonists be together on screen, which as this movie proves and gets you wanting more of it, essentially works in an actors-chemistry level. In defense of TLJ, it had to develop the Luke-Rey thread, so had it quite difficult to solve that problem, though.
In a visual level, while palm on palm with TLJ in terms of the composition of colours and framing, this film is a relapse on some of Abrams most distinctive -and boring to me- signature: epic epic epicness and pretentiously oversized architectural scale.
While the father figure in ANH fell dead in a matter-of-fact corridor which name we -or at least, I- know for the title of a fan film, TFA’s father figure had to die in a bridge that had no utility but because it looked “kuhl” in the middle of a pit filled with darkness, with only one ray of light conveniently placed upon his head, which as well faded when he died. While you can relate to loosing someone from a heart attack in a bathroom, or some beloved one being killed in a dark alley, the whole idea of TFA was and felt more based in what’s vissually cool than what makes sense and is relatable. And these kind of underlining the symbolism up to the point of making it explicit is what makes both Abrams films feel like a itinerary made by a fan across scenarios that would-be cool to watch. Straight out of a comic book, or a Kurosawa film, and not mediated by the sui-generis filter that the Star Wars recipee is. Of course, that recipee takes from Kurosawa, but reformulates it in its own proper way, and therefore going back to the sources instead of going to what already had been elaborated from them always keeps rethreading the feeling that visually these movies delve in a register possible today and impossible yesterday, where visually Abrams makes in the ST what GL couldn’t make in the OT. And the fact that today we can on scren what yesterday we probably couldn’t is sufficient excuse to have a near-death head of state that instead of being in a controlled space beneath a bazillion locks is sitting in a weird rock chair in a colossal arena full of people whose presence doesn’t neither make sense nor is explainable in universe. Compare it to the throne room in ROTJ, which was monumental for its time yet had the scope of having a sense of intimacy; compare it to even Coruscant’s Senate Chamber, with all the symbol of being a capital of the galaxy, compare it to the Death Star’s low cieilings… the prequels, while betraying the scale of the events of OT, by being chronologically precedents within universe gave the feeling that the story closed from wide open, to open, to closed spaces as well as the story entwined itself from a a galactical conflict to a family conflict.
If on the other extreme of the rope you produce the exact same effect, the result is nonesensical, and more and more anime like, just because you now can.
This, of course, is true in our world, but within the movie Universe, which is by nature a romantic universe that longs to a long-lost past, like ObiWan says in ANH about those thousand generations, you keep making the symbolism of events bigger as you progress in the saga, while the trascendence of previous events as refered to within the saga is always backwards in scale and importance. Kylo Ren is made to look back on Vader while he achieves feats and reaches places Vader never was in back in the OT. So it was from the beginning a very difficult, near impossible position, where a guiding choice was to be made, and was never made except in a pragmatical need-to basis, from which the coherence of the saga ends up suffering:
-Anakin was the chosen one but not so much since had he been it, these movies wouldn’t make sense.
-The Empire is in ruins that look cool on screen but somehow it’s more powerful than before.
-Palpatine is to be feared because he was the big bad evil from previous installments, but somehow his return is a return on a grander scale that couldn’t possibly be explained.
-Had R2 (the most bastardized character of this trilogy) been awaken, TFA would have made not sense for most of it, but we need BB8, who is so cool.
And I could go on.
From these kind of stuff, TLJ tried to warn by making a script in which, toning down these contradictions, opened gates to other possible resolutions; if not even to consider the fact that there might not have been a resolution at all, unless TLJ was to be made EPVII and have another middle act and this resolution.
However, the “lock” that TLJ put on IX was so opressive that you could even argue TLJ was a liberating chapter not by its own postmodern dogmatisms but because it could only be precedent to this clear “fuck it, have fun and shut up” this episode is, with all its own flaws. At least to me, and albeit fast paced, it’s the most Star Warsy -OT way- episode since the OT, except for Rogue One, which in my opinion got almost all of it right.
As for character choices, Rey being a Palpatine is a turn-back on the supposed “Skywalker saga”. No matter how many fingers end up being pointed at me, I will say bloodlines matter for any human being. Based on this burgeoise-thinking “american way” that roots itself on the idea that “you and only you make your own fate” the trilogy had a very big a priori on the fact that chosen families are more important than true lineage. And while this is socially accepted from an extrinsic perspective to that of the individual who is in that position, and while I even agree with it at some point, it doesn’t, repeat, it doesn’t near closely resemble the conflict for the individual in question. For someone who doesn’t know where he/she comes from, chosen family is the only thing he/she knew, so overruling the idea by denying the identity conflict that implies not knowing where you factually come from, far from “progressive” thinking is actually a rather XIXth century position where adopted children were not even told they were adopted, in this case scenario, the explicit excuse would be “because it doesn’t matter where you come from”. Only that, as proven two centuries ago, it just doesn’t work that way on the affected person him/herself.
Transpolating, had Luke denied that conflict from the beginning, he would have been Luke Lars and no OT would have taken place.
On the other hand, this film attacks this conflict by actually giving Rey a lineage, and having her resolve on her own what she wants to be, based on what she is and what she can possibly be. The fact that she ends up being a Palpatine is a good mouth-shutter for all the Mary Sue issue the trilogy made up based on extrinsical reasons such as girl power and stuff; and at the same time an opening of the “mistery box” defined in TFA, which at least to me is the root of all the problem.
Why? Because not a single fan of the saga wasn’t prepared to know and see in a potential ST that the fellows of the OT had offspring. Luke with some woman, and Han and Leia. It’s the building of a pointless mistery box around both protagonists that defined a smock from which the writing simply never quite recovered up straight.
With Ben Solo, take up the Mandalorian for example, the last chapter where his name is revealed. Filoni doesn’t add up to the moment. The Moff speaks the line unconscious of how the line would fall on the viewer, because IN UNIVERSE it doesn’t make sens to make that underlining. Now take the hologram of Snoke in TFA: in the hands of your faaaaaathaaa…HAN…(dum dum dum) SOLO. It’s another case of epic epic epicness becoming a cartoonish shit.
With Rey, why not just from the very beginning made her Luke’s child? Why on earth would they think that would have been a duller or plain plotline? As if history wouldn’t have several cases of children of distinguished parents -whose fame and duty eclipsed their own domestical duties as parents- that end up being fuck ups or potential fuck ups. Yes, sure, not sympathetic for General Leia and Master Skywalker, but it would have been a good way to make the script, the scope of the trilogy a little smaller, and the depth a little larger.
As for OT trio, missed oportunity to have them on screen together by VII, but I have to say that besides from that, ending the Saga centered on Leia as a mentor is only regardable to again, extrinsic reasons. Leia is courage and determination, Han is conflict, Luke is wisdom. The structure of who had to be the present figure in every chapter was very very clear. And, keeping the titles I’ve put, it more or less ends up summarizing every chapter of the trilogy as it ended up being, only that there’s not a smooth transition from one to the other.
I’m sorry, but Leia dies. Of old age. It’s not Yoda’s death. While not developed, its clear within the 6 episode GL saga, that both OBK and Yoda paid in the OT the arrogance of the PT’s Jedi Order, his death in peace comes as a realisation after enduring his own failures and trying to make up for them with Luke. What was Leia’s arc in this ST, or worse, putting together OT and ST?
Princess dressed as ballsy woman gets her home-planet destroyed and her adopted family killed, not a wink 'cause she’s guts. Princess dressed as ballsy woman doesn’t know what to do with her feelings. Ballsy woman realises she’s a princess and acts on her feelings for the good rascal, ends up with him.
Cut up to VII, Princess is a ballsy woman again all development turned backward. The offspring of her feelings as a parricide, who kills the one who made her be in peace with her royal nature: not much of a wink. Parricide comes after her, her own son: not a wink… even makes joke about her hair.
IX: ballsy woman dies after not acting individually at all on most of these facts.
Conflict? Not so much. Wisdom? Jokes about hair, and Carrie Fisher branded -Not Leia’s- sarcasm. Power? Yes, power over the same type of character that got her in the OT, in this case the ST good rascal that later says “our mothers and fathers fought for”, even when two previous installments have shown not the mother of the OT trio, but both the fathers actually making the moves…closing titles, Carrie Fisher listed above Mark Hamill.
Between “the trauma” of a hand being chopped by a father, and life-lasting denial from a supposedly strong momma figure, it’s shallow to claim one is more violent than the other and that this trilogy is virtuous because we’ve left behind the age of offspring abusive traumas, just because what is denied is the explicit and densified act in a mutilation, while if it’s hypodermical it’s all good.
Complexity of the femenine character that would have been interesting to develop buried beneath this testament of nerdish and idealistic idea of strenght in women represented only as gutsiness. Wisdom that this femenine character added to the protagonist to face the Emperor? Zero. All critics to this are meant to be regarded as sexist, just in case.
With the OT trio misspent across the trilogy, with Luke gone prematurely and not being able to reach the protagonist in a constant way in her last act (the whole film) of growth, regardless of Rey’s coming of age ang growth tale being more paralable to a traditional male protagonist and hence being distinctive from what Leia’s coming of age story was in the OT, not to discuss gender stuff here.
With a framing that was thought for a stand alone movie based on nostalgia (TFA), that if thought spreaded across a trilogy would simply end up -as it ended up- feeling shallow and superficial, and whose only depth could come -and came- from its metacomment nature on why we love the OT:
a) Rebels, who won but somehow still exist, vs Empire, who lost, but somehow is still strong and even stronger.
b) in fronteer worlds, while somehow if there was a natural continuation, or even a debt (considering it was the original plan for ROTJ but couldn’t be done at the time) it was to move the action again to the core worlds, or to revisit previous films worlds, NOT FOR THEIR VISUAL APPEAL but because something was to possibly happen in some of those places to tie in with previous episodes, otherwise it doesn’t make sense to have the rebels always be in a jungle planet, the jedi and protagonists always be or come from a desert planer, the empire always be strong in white -ice, salt- environments.
With hollow concepts that take the most ominous symbolisms and make them explicit as fuck even if they weren’s established as such in previous films, such as “anakin’s lightsabre”, the “map to Luke Skywalker”, the “sith fleet”, the “knights of ren”, the “helmet of kylo ren”, the “helmet of Darth Vader”, the “sith dagger” (about the sith dagger, treated as if it was a 1500 years-old-artifact made me laugh hardly, it’s just something that was lost for Rey’s age since it was used to kill her parents. In fact it can’t be older than ROTJ, since how and why would the emperor write in a dagger his location, before he even gets to that location after his supposed death in DSII. Same for “sith language”, which a young Anakin from the ass-of-the-galaxy world of Tattooine could publicly upload in a home-made droid’s memory, yet some 50 years later is pretended to be a lost prehistoric language, killing all the indiana jones feeling of “archaeology of the galaxy” into a cartoonish shit that doesn’t make sense)
With those hollow concepts acting just as titles -even the grandish titles of the films themselves- for stuff that ends up being so general, so insubstantial and incorporeal that the hollowiness reveals itself in all its emptiness, which is filled with visual whims,
With the character that should have died in VII or VIII having a supposedly significant role in this one, while having to deal with the actress death,
With a story that couldn’t move to many places other than a sort of an isolated chapter than somehow summarized a trilogy in itself,
With a protagonist trio whose chemistry had never been fleshed out in previous installments,
With a vilain came out of nowhere just for this episode, and to which all those who could have helped somehow the protagonist are dead, and wouldn’t they be dead none of the trilogy, not even the vilain’s return would have taken place,
With an infuriated and polarised fan base to please,
With Disney’s meta-threads all over the place,
With the director’s own features and weaknesses, both visually and in script,
What was this movie to be if not what it is? Just a visually appealing compromise to all factions and conditionants, in which the original lievity of a bunch of spaceships pew pew and a gang of friends is the only thing that feels home, and by being the only thing that feels right and yet being enjoyable reminds us of how important that core base was.
And as such, it is a nice coda. The saga ended, against all odds for me given how distasteful the film feels for me in the context of the saga, in VIII with Luke’s death. Had I to pick one of them and edit Force ghosts to give closure -not saying that in IX they weren’t needed- I’d just put Anakin, ObiWan and Yoda in Luke’s death scene, and bye bye.
Some word more about JJ’s approach: he needs to stop thinking movies as a spectator. If you analyse his “mistery box” TedEx talk, he is clearly reversing the roles of film-maker and film-viewer in a way that “because I liked how it make me feel, I try to replicate the feeling and not the logical structure whence my feeling was rooted”.
As if Lucas thinking -or Rowling- was:
“I have a protagonist. He’s the son of a famous knight. He doesn’t know it. Famous knight has gone bad or dead in tragic circumstances. Protagonist doesn’t know it neither. It will have impact on protagonist. In part I I’ll make the protagonist wonder about these doubts”
While JJ’s: “I remember that the movie I liked as a kid was one where the protagonist didn’t know where he came from, and in the end it didn’t matter where he came from, what mattered was the mistery surrounding the subject”.
Hence, replicating the byproduct of good plotting, and not good plotting is not a guaranteed way to go, it’s the spectacle, the effect on the viewer what he seems to like, and at times it seems he’s not able to put himself in the other side of the bar.
If you call a film The Force Awakens, you need to make a film and a script where it is clear that the Force awakens. Not a film where you disgress in all your whims about what’s visually cool, and then tie the knots between those situations that are of visual nature, and tangentially and only tangentially two or three things or lines of dialogue take place where you take the title of the film. It has to be organic. Even if the title is completely metaphoric, as The Phantom Menace, it has to be organic.
Taking a stormtrooper and making it red, and because it is red and “looks badass” you call him “sith trooper” isn’t organic, it’s hollow. It’s just a trooper, that doesn’t have a single thing to do with the Sith. Whatever the Sith are, we can argue. But if within a story that has its own concepts and logics, wether you like them or are fond of them or not, you move your plotting with the only criterium of “feels good” or “looks good” or “feels challenging”, thus subjugating that logic, no matter how poor it was, to a soup where everything is the same, that’s called cynism.