Wednesday, December 27, 2017


Wow! It was fun! It was exciting! It was everything Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets wasn’t!

This was easily one of the prettiest Star Wars movies ever. Maybe a bit too pretty; when we first saw Snokes’ throne room, I thought it looked like a dance stage, something from a ‘50’s film where we’d see a large, choreographed number. “Ah ha!” I thought. “We’ll be seeing a big lightsaber duel in this room.”

I was mostly right. Completely right for certain definitions of “lightsaber duel.”

Yeah, there will be spoilers below.

This film does have issues. It’s embarrassed by lots of things. It’s embarrassed to be an action-adventure movie and self-flagellates over the excesses of the genre. It’s embarrassed to be the movie following The Force Awakens, though I have to admit, the digs it takes at that film are some of my favorite moments.

The point is, it’s not the free-wheeling swashbuckler the original three were. A bit too much of Rogue One’s earnest war movie has rubbed off on it. Still, it’s not nearly as heavy as that one was, and our heroes get to be heroic and our villains get to be vile. It just has to make a big plot point out of the issue of all the people dying for the cause, where a New Hope deftly encompasses the issue with tension in the Rebel control room and a look of fear and shock and loss on Luke’s face when Biggs dies. I understand; there’s been a lot of big blockbuster action films with massive body counts. People die left and right in Valerian and hardly anyone seems to notice most of the time. And it does give Poe a nice arc from hero to officer. But Lucas did it far more gracefully in ’77.

Like Episode VII, VIII still feels stupidly small. In the original trilogy, the Empire was a freakin’ empire, with a military force capable of subduing a galaxy. Entire star systems slipped through Gran Mof Tarkin’s squeezing fingers. The battle of Hoth involved hundreds, if not thousands, of soldiers, pilots, support personnel, etc.

The First Order feels like its got maybe two dozen starships; the entirety of the Resistance fits in the Falcon at the end of the movie. Neither side has the industrial infrastructure to produce their own armaments and end up buying their weapons from the same dealers. (Kinda makes you wonder why the Order hasn’t just said, “Hey, you know, these tie fighters are totally naff. Let’s just buy a bunch of those totally boss x-wings and paint ‘em black and white.”) When the Resistance sends out its message asking for help and nobody responds, the truth becomes obvious: nobody else cares. The Resistance vs. the Order feels like a slap-fight between the last vestiges of two once-glorious powers now deep into their respective sunsets.

But let’s be honest: the action in this film is top notch. Not only is it obvious what is happening, it’s obvious why it’s happening. We can see the move and counter-move of both sides and we know why they’re doing what they’re doing. I’ll admit, I wasn’t always sure how they were doing what they were doing; the whole hyperspace tracking thing felt odd and full of Geordi-speak, but even worse was the Order targeting the cloaked Resistance shuttles. Maybe they explained how the thief guy learned that while I was in the bathroom? (Hey, it’s a 2.5 hour movie, cut me some slack!) And there’s waaaaaay too much characters not telling each other things for no good reason.

Beyond those little quibbles, we know why the fights take place and the strategies employed make sense. When Kylo turns on Snoke, when the Order brings a big gun to the planet to blast through the massive doors and the Resistance flies out on outdated gear to destroy it first, when Luke strides out to buy time for the escape, we know what’s at stake. Even when Poe launches an attack at the Order’s dreadnaught and then gets castigated by Lea for it, we understand why he did what he did and why Lea took issue with it.

And then there are the lightsaber duels. The one in Snoke’s throne room was lovely and fit in perfectly with the duels we’ve seen after the original trilogy: dance-like choreography and spectacle galore. But it’s the Kylo/Luke duel at the end which is the real thing, worthy of standing beside the lightsaber duels of the original trilogy. It’s not about killing but things far more important than mere life and death. It takes place on a plane elevated from all the military hardware and mere lightsaber technique. For that reason alone, I’m miffed that Luke is relegated to the role of Force ghost in IX. Yeah, ok, moping for however many years on his island is lame, but everything else about this Luke, from his frustration with Jedi tradition to his old-guy been-there-done-that attitude, to his disgust with fame, is awesome! I want more adventures of old-fart Luke and I’m really, really annoyed I’m not gonna get ‘em.

Luke vs. Kylo was not quite the Luke/Darth fights, but wow! The magic is back.

I can’t way to see episode IX!

Next time: Everything wrong with Vice-admiral Purple Hair, where everyone I didn’t piss off with this post gets to hate me. 😉

UPDATE: more thoughts on the teeny tiny stage this movie takes place on.


Stu Ordana said...

I really wanted to like this movie, it had some very good and poignant scenes. But I can't get over the fact that the movie took place in what had to be 24 to 48 hours and was basically a spaceship chase movie which could have been ended almost immediately. The First Order had 6 Star Destroyers that could have easily hyperspaced infront of the Rebel ships and destroyed them.

And during the chase, a smaller ship hyperspaces away from the Rebel ships and the First Order doesn't chase it down. And they don't send more people along to get away.

It just did not make sense.

And whats wrong with the idea of bombers in space?

Anyway, this movie had the opposite influence on me. It made me not want to see the next movie in the trilogy.

trollsmyth said...

Stu Ordana: The First Order had 6 Star Destroyers that could have easily hyperspaced infront of the Rebel ships and destroyed them.

I'll admit, I've totally given Star Wars a pass on making sense in space. How hyperspace works is a total mystery, only making slightly more sense than how slower-than-light travel works. (Seriously, how did they fly to a planet that was a slightly-larger-than-moonsized-sphere on the horizon in 48 hours without FTL?)

I think bombers in space is an awesome idea, but they should have been spinning, sling-shotting their payload towards the enemy rather than slowly puttering up and dropping their bombs straight down. The Star Wars universe makes not a damned lick of sense once spaceships get involved, so I just kinda tune out my science-sensor any time there's a starship on the screen. >.<

Hamlet said...

The plot and conflict of this entire movie ran on a whole lot of stupid and non-communication. Not a single member of the Resistance brass was able or willing to explain themselves in any way let along in a way that would have prevented the problems that caused the essential destruction at the end. A simple "We have a plan that, for security reasons, we cannot reveal. Please be patient." would have gotten rid of the need for the absolutely idiotic and pointless Finn and Rose scenes that detracted from everything else.

The First Order, much like the last movie, runs on stupid, too. A complete lack of tactics.

And the less said about the ballistic trajectories of space laser cannons during the stern chase scenes the better. I'm willing to give a lot of pass when it comes to physics in a Star Wars space battle, because cool, but seriously, that hurt my soul.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed the movie for the good scenes. Watching Luke walk out onto that plane before the advancing army and the ensuing duel with Kylo was just great. Worth the price of admission in some regards.

trollsmyth said...

Hamlet: OMG the institutional stupid! Mon Mothma or Tarkin could whip both these gaggles of imbeciles combined with one hand tied behind their backs. >.<

The thing that hurts worst about the silence of Vice-admiral Holdo is that if it was done for operational secrecy, it totally and completely failed! The Order knew her plan before members of her own bridge crew! WTF!?! But that's not Holdo's worst sin...

The whole Finn-and-Rose thing is powered by lazy writing. Love the fact that there's a space Monte Carlo; really wish they'd done something cool with it. (And the idea they just ditched their starship on the beach right next to the casino? Even Lando had better traffic control than that!) It's three saving graces are: it feels brief; it introduces us to Del Toro's fun character; it sets up the scene at the end with the kids telling the story of Luke facing down the Order.

The writing on Star Wars films has never been their strong point and this one was rough; where it was good, it really shined, but where it was bad it was wince-inducing.

Dan said...

The structural issues pulled me out of the movie pretty hard, but in terms of individual scenes (especially anything with Luke), I thought it was filled with fantastic moments. Just not put together all that well.

Stu Ordana said...

Trollsmyth, now your idea for space bombers I could respect.

And I agree that the scenes with Luke, the scenes with Leia, and the Rey/Kylo scenes were great, I loved those parts of the movie but the rest...

Ruprecht said...

I thought the movie was a copy/paste job from Empire and Return of the Jedi (even down to much of the throne room dialogue). The subplot turned out pointless. But what really stuck in my craw was that both Luke and Leia's deaths were meh (yes Leia didn't actually die but since Carrie Fisher did its most likely the same thing).

I've already explained in the other thread how they could have made Leia go out with a bang so I won't repeat, but whats wrong with having Luke play Dominios with those AT-ATs standing behind Ren. It would have been a crowd pleaser moment that really gave the rebels (now Resistance!) more time to escape and made it obvious that when he force suicides Kenobi-style it was certainly not out of fear of defeat but because he was giving Kilo another chance.

Yora said...

This very much matches my feelings about the movie, which is the first Star Wars movie I really liked from the past 30 years. The plot makes little sense and the dialog is a garbled mess, but the story works on an emotional level. I can very much buy how the characters feel and how it motivates them to do the things they do, which is always the most important part in a movie. It's a completely illogical story (but Star Wars never scored high in that regard), but I can get emotionally invested with all the characters. Their conflicts and relationships make sense, even when the words coming from their mouths do not.
And while it does indeed feel stupidly small, this movie very much recaptures the original visual style. Except for Space Monaco, this movie looks like it could have been shot on sets from 40 years ago. (FA looks like made for TV.) The bombers are a silly design, but the retro World War 2 movie style made this my favorite moment in the movie.