About twelve hours ago, I was greasily deep into a large popcorn and watching the infamous Star Wars intro scroll. As the opening song ended, I remember thinking, “I think what they told us here would have been a good movie; I hope this one is as good as that one sounds like it would have been.”
Twelve hours later, I’m not sure it was.
Be warned, if you read beyond this point, there are SPOILERS!
Before I get too much into the movie, I need you to understand where I’m coming from: I am a nerd. Admittedly, more of a Star Trek nerd than a Star Wars nerd, but I appreciate Star Wars for a very different reason than I do Star Trek, and I have been known to delve into the mythology more than the average movie-goer… not as much as the YouTubers I watch to get my info, but still.
When Episode Seven came out, I had a theory that I’ve seen a few other places on the interwebs: I thought that the reason for having basically two protagonists was because they must come together to bring balance to the force. The idea being that balance meant that neither the Jedi nor the Sith actually won, but that there was a state of equilibrium between the two created by Kylo Ren and Rey meeting in the middle. I thought this would happen by them either destroying each other, becoming frenemies a la The Doctor and The Master (now Missy), or by having a child that would be truly neutral.
I thought that we would find ourselves revisiting the prophecy that said that Anakin would be the one to bring balance to the force and we would find that Rey was born of equally mysterious circumstances (you know, those midichlorian things) and thus be Anakin reborn of the light side, while Kylo Ren was born from the passion of Leia and Han, thus the embodiment of the dark. Then, their coming together would be a true reincarnation of Anakin and a child of the grey (or at least, that was the outcome I not-so-secretly hoped for) would be the fulfillment of the prophecy.
But what did we get?
Instead, what we got was a lot of retconning Episode Eight and more questions than answers.
While admittedly Episode Eight was not a strong movie, it seemed to be moving more in the direction I personally was hoping for. We found out that Rey’s parentage was unimportant, and Luke was fed up to some extent with the Jedi ways. There seemed to be a strong lean to the idea that all people have the capacity to be either light or dark, Jedi or Sith.
I had hope this would lead to the neutral grey path, but I was not so lucky.
Instead, we see Rey struggle with her dark side, while Kylo Ren absolutely embraces his without a doubt. Rey tells him she can see his struggle with what he did to his father, and yet, we NEVER see this struggle until the moment when Kylo Ren does an about face to become Ben Solo again. We find out that Rey struggles with her dark side because she is the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine, Darth Sidious himself.
And while the internet was abuzz with the hope that this would bring some of the old Extended Universe back into canon, it wasn’t quite so. Apparently, in some books and comics prior to the Disney buyout, there were multiple clones of the Emperor that he kept specifically in case something (like dying) happened to him. Instead, we get a broken, blind Emperor who is being maintained by machines, leaving him to dangle like a fish on a hook in certain scenes. He wants Rey to kill him so that his spirit can enter hers and thus she would become Empress of the Sith.
I didn’t realize the Sith had enough members to warrant a hierarchy.
In the Prequels, it is established that there are always only two Sith: a master and an apprentice.
Even in those movies, we see it isn’t entirely true as Darth Sidious replaces his apprentices relatively quickly because he seemingly has more than one at a time.
Thus, when in this movie there are hoards of Sith (whom we never see fully) gathered around him as if he was back on the Senate “floor,” it was a bit disconcerting. It’s as if J.J. Abrams wanted to flip the Force so that the Sith were in great numbers like the Jedi had been in the prequels. While, the original trilogy had basically only two of each. On the Jedi side, there was at first Yoda and Obi Wan, who would die so that Luke could become a Jedi. On the Sith side we had Darth Sidious and Darth Vader.
So, in reality, Vader aka Anakin did bring balance to the force! The Jedi had become too powerful and the Sith too few.
This latest trilogy set it up as if Luke had begun to retrain Jedi, but Kylo Ren slaughtered them similarly to how Anakin slaughtered the younglings in the prequels. When Anakin did it, it balanced the force; when Kylo did it, it put the Sith over the Jedi in terms of power.
And thus, we need to balance the force once again. Kylo’s constant mantra of finishing what his grandfather started begins to take on a double meaning that the audience might see, but Kylo may not for some time.
This would have been a story-line I could have gotten behind… had it been presented this way.
Instead, we’re split between the non-force users and the force users and following multiple, never fully developed story-lines.
The force users and non-force users seem to be on totally separate, but parallel missions. Finn and Poe are busy trying to destroy the physical threat that is the Final Order, a mysterious fleet created in secret by the Emperor. They must find the Emperor and his fleet first, which puts them on a similar path to Rey, but they don’t seem to approve of her Jedi training.
When we first see them, they are going on a mission to get intel from a spy in the First Order (spoiler: it’s Hux). They seem to think that they almost didn’t make it (though the audience can see otherwise) and try to guilt Rey for not being there because she was too busy with her Jedi training to accompany them on a simple mission.
Then, when they go with her on her mission (because friendship), things get weird and murky. Finn wants to tell Rey something, but he never quite does. Based on what happens in the movie, it’s either that he is Force sensitive or that he’s in love with her, but it’s never mentioned again. Or at least not by Finn while talking to Rey. Poe brings it up a time or three because Finn didn’t want to discuss it in front of him and it becomes a running joke.
Poe, meanwhile, ends up having to admit to being a spice runner… which is basically Abrams trying to tell us that he is a plucky smuggler just like Han. You know, the thief with a heart of gold who doesn’t want to be a leader, but in the end becomes the leader anyway. He even gets a pep talk from Lando Calrissian, Han’s old friend. But, just to spice things up, he decides to co-lead with Finn… because friendship.
There are some amazingly epic fight scenes between Rey and Kylo Ren. Kylo understands exactly what it is that makes them so special to one another: they are a Diad (I have no idea how to spell that and for the life of me, I keep wanting to say it like “Dryad”), two force users who are linked as if they are one.
It would have been so easy to go with my grey theory if they would have just found a way to let him stay on the dark side. But no. Leia uses the absolute last of her Force energy to metaphysically touch her son and help him come back to the light. It’s just a moment, in the middle of a battle when he stops, she dies, and then Rey kills Kylo out of rage (her dark side is showing)… and then she brings him back because she realizes that Leia is dying.
Thanks to the guys over at New Rockstars, I know this healing thing is a new Force power. We see it happen in The Mandalorian (which is amazing! but we don’t have time to go into it here), and there was speculation that it might be setting up some things for this new Star Wars movie. Sure enough, it did.
Side note: Baby Yoda is beyond adorable!
So here is where the questions begin. Leia dies, but we don’t see her body fade away Jedi style until the moment when Kylo also fades away. When Rey heals Kylo, she tells him that she wanted to take his hand, but only Ben’s hand. And then, we have a weird conversation with Kylo’s memory of his father, Han, and all of a sudden, he’s not Sith anymore.
Boom! That’s it. He shows up to save Rey from becoming the Empress of the Sith. Together, they fight, passing lightsabers through their shared force spirit thing, and confront the Emperor… who steals their super powerful force energy to heal himself.
In the end, the Emperor is defeated, but Rey dies, and then Kylo/Ben shows up, heals her, they kiss (woohoo for a tiny bit of romance), and then he fades away in that way that only Jedis do when they die. We see Leia’s body fade away as well. So… was Leia possessing Ben to help bring him back to the light? And since we don’t see his Force ghost later with Luke and Leia, does that mean that he is now a part of Rey?
If they were going to kill him off and have him become part of her as well, they should have let him stay dark. Then she would be the embodiment of the grey/neutral like it has been set up for all this time. But that is probably just wishful thinking on my part.
Meanwhile, Finn and Poe destroy the physical threat, and while Finn can feel Rey die (see, he IS Force sensitive), he never talks to her about what happened or the thing he wanted to tell her.
So, we’re left wondering a ton of things about how and why Kylo reverted to Ben, and what was the purpose of them being a Diad, unless it was only ever to have one save the other and their souls combine. Plus, what did Finn want to tell Rey?
And who were these random chicks that suddenly appeared and had things in common with Poe and Finn?
Oh yeah… didn’t touch on that yet. Poe has a friend who he seems to have a history and chemistry with. She’s the one who tells us he was a spice runner, but that whole relationship is all exposition except this weird head nod thing at the end where Poe seems to be trying to hit on her after they’ve won, and she’s not having it. But since we never saw their relationship develop, it feels awkward.
Finn, on the other hand, meets a girl who looks like she could be his sister, but she’s simply another one of the First Order storm troopers who deserted. She tells them that there are a whole bunch of them who deserted, and he tells her they did it because of the Force, and then she decides to go wherever he goes, even for the seemingly suicide mission to stop the Final Order.
So, is she supposed to help him get over his crush on Rey? Or do they have more of a shared connection than we know? At the end, she and Lando have a conversation about her not knowing where she’s from, and he offers to help her figure it out, as he looks at her with a fatherly smile. So, you have three black characters, and it’s implied that they all have some sort of connection… yeah, that’s not going to be a thing that upsets people or anything.
They add these two female characters seemingly to give all three of our Rebel protagonists a love story. And to destroy the idea that Poe and Finn could be a thing.
Basically, it was just too much in too short of a time period. There was more interest in changing things that had been established in the last film than really pushing the story forward. I think it was a lot of fan service and forcing the story instead of actually creating a hero story like the original trilogy did.
The worst part? I liked it. I thoroughly enjoyed the fight scenes. I even loved the bits that were obvious fan service. I like that it kind of ends where the whole thing (if we start with the original trilogy and not the prequels) began: Tattooine, on the Skywalker farm. But the questions have kept me up half the night.
Enough so that I felt obligated to write them all down and do a final post here before I completely revamp #JustAddTea for the new year!
I give the movie 4 stars for entertainment value, but only 2 for storytelling. I probably would have given it a full 5 stars for entertainment, but my roommate told me she felt like she wanted to take a nap about halfway through. So while I, the avid scifi nerd, was absorbing the whole thing in and making notes to come back to later, she was bored. That’s not a good sign.
It’s a good thing The Mandalorian has better storytelling, otherwise, this would have possibly killed the Star Wars franchise even though it was a fun movie to watch.