Right, so I got back from my first screening (and there will definately be another, while it's still on the big screen) of TLJ a little bit ago. These are my preliminary thoughts, in the order in which they're falling out of my brain (horizontal dividers where I suddenly shift gears):
The first half of the script is a series of scenes that could be accurately summarized as:
[Effective dramatic moment]
Humor certainly has a place in Star Wars
, but this reeked of a finished script being handed to a studio hack, only for it to be handed back with scribblings in the margins, "Add some JOKES! Audiences love JOKES!" It was just too much and in all the wrong places. It was made more annoying by the fact that the film did such a great job of building dramatic tension within each scene (and ultimately over the arc of the entire film, once the jokes mercifully peeter out).
So, that half-way point. You'll know it when you get to it, because it's a moment that is just an amazing cinematic experience. I swear, everyone in the packed theater was holding their breath, because the room went dead silent. The visuals froze in a moment of awe, and the people in charge of the film's sound design knew to leave several seconds of silence to just let the imagry sink in.
Also--and this is where I'm throwing euphemism to the wind and going full SPOILER
--the film does a great job of introducing Vice Admiral Holdo as a betrayer of the Rebellion, leaving only ambiguity in whether that treason is through complacency or intention. Then, as they do in so many other scenes, they turn your expectations against you, when Dameron discovers the reason behind abandoning the command ship and witnesses Holdo turn that ship into a lightspeed battering ram.
How about characters, then?
Obviously, I've got to start with Rey and Kylo Ren. Again, the first half of the movie--and indeed, The Force Awakens
--sets up expectations that this film is running Rey through a condensed version of Luke's arc in Empire
and Return of the Jedi
. And then the lightsaber brawl (and it is a brawl) with Snoke's royal guard concludes, the script says to the audience, "LOLNOPE!" Ren's interaction with Rey immediately following that fight retroactively earns all of the rehashing that TFA did in order to set up the twist. I mean, unless the most recent remaster of Return
redoes the ending such that Vader kicks Luke's face in, takes the Emperor's throne, and hunts the Rebellion to the last person.
Skywalker is a far more secondary character than he's made out to be in the trailers. That's a good thing. TLJ isn't primarily his story, so he shouldn't hog the spotlight. When he does have it, he uses it well. You get a real sense of the weight of his previous failures crushing him. That plays into one last bit of character development that he gets, as a coda to his primary arc in the original trilogy, when Yoda makes a cameo to remind Luke that failure is a part of growth.
There's a big side-arc involving Finn and Rose, which feels rather out-of-place, given the part of the main plot that runs in parallel with it. It feels like the whole casino adventure was meant to take days
of in-universe time, and the writer only realized after it was written that the Rebel fleet has hours
of fuel left for the chase sequence. I get why it wasn't cut: It's basically the entire time that Finn and Rose have to interact in this film, and they're being set up for more in Episode IX. The compression of the timeframe makes the whole sequence feel inartful, though, especially the way that the film cuts back and forth between the Casino and the chase.
Finally, a couple of quotes from the film to respond to (and which will be lightly paraphrased, owing to not having a copy of the script in front of me):
We won't win this war by fighting what we hate; we'll win it by saving what we love.
I've been particularly emotional lately for reasons
, but I'll admit that the feels got me good on that one. Suck it, dark and gritty reboots! Some of us want films where the protagonists find a bit of joy in the end!
You can't solve every problem by jumping into an X-Wing and blowing something up.
This is one of those lines that gets immediately trampled by an ill-advised joke. In the moment, it feels like one of the better jokes in the first half of the film, but in the work as a whole, it's one of the worst offenders. There's a running theme of attrition throughout the whole movie (it's arguably a secondary theme, but it's definately there), and in this first instance where it's explicitly addressed, it gets played for a laugh.
That's a little bit of a tangent, though, because I've been dying for a film to give a serious treatment of attrition and escalation for ages
. Superhero movies have been ignoring the effects of the ever-increasing amount of collateral damage inflicted by the battles they depict since basically the turn of the century. I was really disappointed by the Power Rangers
movie, since the power build up through a typical PR episode would--if handled just ever so slightly differently from the TV series--make a natural demonstration of the moral and physical hazards of escalating a conflict. But yeah, that opportunity got squandered by a boilerplate superhero madlib script that just happened to have the Power Rangers slotted in. Who knew that Star Wars
would be the film to come along and say, "Hey, sometimes the giant space battle isn't a worthwhile solution"?
I definately want to give this one another watch. There's a lot going on in TLJ, and I'd like to straighten it out a little more thoroughly in my mind, before engaging in a fuller discussion of the film's themes. If it weren't for the JOKES! and the technical awkwardness of the casino scenes, this could easily be a high watermark for the series for me.