As with every “Star Wars” review I write, this will be mostly spoiler-free, though I’ve rarely composed a critique of an installment from this franchise that is also so enthusiasm-free.
Speaking of spoiler, the opening crawl (the BIG WORDS that slowly inch up the screen, filling us in on the story, while John Williams’ glorious march plays) immediately gets things off to a bad start. The first sentence is “The dead speak!” This is followed by, of all things, a reveal that ruins a surprise in the very first scene (and this is the only spoiler you’ll get from me, though the trailer and poster already ruined it): Emperor Palpatine is still alive! Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) wants to bring Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side. Meanwhile, our heroes (Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, the Porgs and a bunch of other random characters) join the battle. Basically, it’s a retread of the plot of “Return of the Jedi,” only much busier and longer.
The final in this latest trilogy is enjoyable but rushed, murkily plotted and busy at the sacrifice of proper character and story development. For most of the way, it felt like I was watching the film with the Fast Forward button on. The third act satisfies because Rey finally becomes the focus- her journey is compelling, though as scattered in its telling as everything else here.
While the cast is reliably plucky and fun to watch, the operatic, downright Shakespearean quality Ian McDiarmid previously brought to the role of is intact. Boy is it ever- the new look and renewed vigor in the character is a joy to watch. If the movie has far too many heroes, at least there’s still a great villain at the center.
Story wise, this combines the fan-baiting, reprise-heavy elements of “The Force Awakens” with the risk-taking, let’s-try-anything, on-again/off-again “logic” of “The Last Jedi.” Turns out Jedi mind-melding and even Millennium Falcon have untapped, wildly contrived-powers. As in the prior movie, so much feels made up on the spot, it won’t just be the fanboys who cry foul over a script that crams too much but somehow seems so flimsy.
So many interesting concepts that are never explained or explored, like Palpatine’s massive robed cult (who are they and where are they from? No idea). Returning director and co-writer J.J. Abrams isn’t the only culprit of the film’s wonky screenplay (the feel of this overall suggests too many cooks ruined a fine soup)- Colin Trevorrow, who over-wrote “Tomorrowland,” is among the credited writers. Lawrence Kasdan, please come back.
Unlike the prior trilogies, this seems to have been crafted not from established plot strands but from audience response towards “The Last Jedi.” Remember Rose Tico, the breakout Asian character from the prior film, who was set up as a possible romantic foil for Finn? The filmmakers are hoping you don’t, as her role is now tiny. Remember how “The Last Jedi” ended on a note of promoting activism against tyranny and oppression? That aspect is barely touched upon here.
A quality that even the maligned prequel trilogy absolutely nailed were the action sequences: yes, “The Phantom Menace” is a rough ride but that Pod Race and three-way lightsaber duel is still tops. Ditto the last 40 minutes of “Attack of the Clones” and saber-battle-to-end-them-all finale of “Revenge of the Sith.” Here, the best sequences involve Rey battling ocean waves and wielding her saber in heavy tides. Great stuff, but these scenes should be stronger.
The many cameo appearances from past franchise favorites are fun in the moment but barely register. Save for McDiarmid and the next gen ensemble (Oscar Isaac and Ridley are terrific), the actors are often lost amidst the countless set-ups for more running and blasting.
Here are my credentials: “Star Wars” is the first movie I ever saw (I was born the year it came out), I was a subscriber to the Bantha Trax newsletter as a child, have a chest full of vintage toys and, this past summer, taught a “Star Wars” class for middle schoolers that included an appearance from a 501st Legion rep. I adore these movies but there’s something off with this one and it’s not just the disturbance in The Force.
-originally published in Maui Time Weekly