31 March 2020

First Impressions: STAR WARS: The Rise of Skywalker

Have you heard about this Coronavirus thing? The nation is gripped by fear and uncertainty, under a pandemic lockdown and fearing the repercussions of a widespread shut down of non-essential services. We are truly just beginning to understand what this means for us as a society and culture as well as the greatest economic shutdown in history.

But there is still something far more terrifying. That would be third film I saw over Christmas Break and am just now finding the time to ramble about it. The first film being Uncut Gems (2019), and the second being CATS (2019). The third was far, far worse. That of course, was Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

I put off this post for three months I think because I was afraid of how dedicated I would have to be. My Star Wars posts have been ridiculous in length and I want to get this right, because I loathed this movie in a very specific way. Certainly unintentionally this film became the nexus point for why everything about Disney's takeover of the Star Wars films became a tremendous, mutli-billion dollar misstep.

Now, time for some disclaimers and rational thought with regard to what commercial success means. First of all, success is all relative. TROS is currently the #14 domestic film of all time, one of only fifteen movies to gross over $500 million domestically. It's #32 all-time worldwide, which is still pretty good, but to be quite honest, this isn't enough for Star Wars, particularly the culmination of a new trilogy like this. The standard should be the very top of the heap.

I don't like judging a film on the money it brings in, but here it's inexorably tied to what this movie is all about. It is supposed to be a cultural phenomenon, a pervasive, permeating, ubiquitous experience that brings an entire world culture together. We didn't get that. That was Avengers: Endgame (2019) last year. TROS felt like an afterthought. We spent all our emotional energy on Endgame, and as we'll describe in more detail later, this reflects the actual plot and character energy of the film. Nothing was earned. TROS wasn't the event it wanted to be and never created an urgency to watch and see what happens.

We spend a lot of time here on Norwegian Morning Wood dissecting this concept. I am endlessly curious to figure out what makes films "events" and how they break through the cultural noise to become important pieces of the zeitgeist. Even films with strong financial success don't always make a strong landing. Why did Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) feel less significant than Jurassic World (2015) which in turn felt less significant than Jurassic Park (1993)? I think we're in this great age of chasing yesterday, but it never feels the way we think it should. We crave new stories and innovation. We always have. But there is so much noise that we can't latch on to the new stories, and so we retreat to what is comforting, even though absent of novelty, of true vision, and of creative understanding, those comforting stories come up empty.

I am an unabashed Marvel fan. We spent a lot of time talking about this, but it's true that Avengers: Endgame really isn't even a movie. It's the culmination of many many movies. It's a brand. Having said that, it still hits incredibly sincere emotional beats - to activate them, though, you must be aligned and invested with the brand, not the film. It's a game-changer because it's not a film anymore. It rises above the noise by not only putting in the work of laying out years of planning and character work, but by self-mythologizing that work from a genuine standpoint, or at least a standpoint that appears genuine. The New Star Wars Trilogy stumbled here. It felt like an imitator, not an innovator. Even if Marvel is pulling wool over our eyes and painting by numbers, it is enormously capable of presenting the illusion that it's not, until the lines between genuine earned emotional outcomes and a corporate fabrication become indistinguishable. To some extent that matters less than what the actual reaction is, which to me is still getting choked up at "On your left" which is one of dozen immortal lines we all remember.

How do you achieve that memorable distinction? It's not the writing of the specific line. It's everything else that functions around it. Every other franchise that chases this can't understand. They imitate the look, the surface details, the hype and marketing, but fail to earn the outcomes on screen. The corporate interference becomes apparent and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. The irony is that the corporate attempt to fabricate genuine emotional connection instead creates a pale facsimile. Instead of letting art be art, fear drives imitated art, which instead hurts the bottom line. And to be sure, the bottom line according to Norwegian Morning Wood isn't what is earned that weekend, but what happens five, ten, or thirty years down the line.

So, what's the problem? It's mostly simple market saturation. When everything is important, nothing is. The ease and proliferation of special effects have dampened creativity and the need for competent writing, as well as creating a scenario where every movie can be a "big" movie. We used to have a column here, "Road to a Blockbuster" where we would discuss the commercial, critical, and cultural prospects of every big film released every weekend. It was pretty fun. But exhausting. It's just noise after a while. Weekends and months that once seemed to be blockbuster poison are now up for grabs. A tentpole can be released any time with the right momentum.

Now, let's clarify because this is not all a bad thing, but I will admit to some bias. I loved a film like Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) which was assuredly a poor attempt to smash a lot of childhood dreams together in a cacophony of incoherent noise. It was a glib, transparent corporate shared universe cash grab. But I loved it! Why? Why did I love that movie and not TROS? Maybe it was investment in the characters. I'm a lifelong TOHO Kaiju fan and the kind of mayhem they vomited over the screen is akin to what's been in my head for decades. The human characters were shitty, but dude they always are, and the emotional pay-off (to me) has always been the monsters, not the people. The film did that well - Godzilla really had to earn his title as King and Ghidorah is a delicious villain. It builds on an already coherent universe (one might argue the original shared universe with a 50-year history), and never felt like a huge forced leap, more an update of corny rubber costumes. Almost most importantly, though, there was never a moment in that movie where I can go on and on about KotM. Maybe we should talk about Star Wars now. Only 1000 words in...

I have covered my history with Star Wars a lot. It spilled into The Last Jedi review as well. I may be like many people who have had such a close relationship to this fictional corporate property that I have my own vision as to where this should have headed. I like to think that that maybe isn't the case, but I really couldn't help it with this film. It's easy to fill in the small details, like the planets, the jokes, the character interactions, but the big emotional movements seemed far off the mark I thought they would reach. This happens all the time. Usually it's great. Movies are unexpected and that final catharsis is great and fulfilling. So often it's the little things. KotM avoided all scenes which I hated so much it took me out of the movie. TROS only had those scenes.

Let's try to go through this from the beginning, which is immediately terrible. I'm actually glad now I waited a few months for this, because we have a lot more information to go on thanks to the film's novelization. Spoiler here, it doesn't make anything better. So, Emperor Sheev Palpatine has returned for reasons that are never, ever ever fucking explained. This is more and more common with J.J. Abrams' work. With Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Star Trek (2009) this energy felt really fresh and exciting. It felt new, but ultimately it's become emblematic of all the problems with these new re-booted franchises I mentioned earlier. There's no actual substance, so the pace and flash replaces everything else. There is an excuse that we didn't have a lot of information going into the Original Trilogy, but there is a significant difference about not needing a lot of info on someone we don't know much about and needing some catch up on thirty years of missing history. Also, last we saw him he was fucking dead.

Side note here - the Sequel Trilogy seems to bend in the opposite direction of the Prequel Trilogy in many ways. Those films clearly went too far in the other direction, overexplaining everything in many ways that made no sense (We don't complain enough about how Darth Vader built C-3PO. What the fuck is that). The Sequel films seem to think we need no explanation of any kind. And it's not like we're craving poorly place exposition, but rather some clearly thought out, coherent, and transparent motivation. There is an overwhelming assault of lore and it catches because it comes across so jarring it almost feels like a non sequitur to the previous films.

Try to track the conflicting motivations here. We open on Kylo Ren scouring the Galaxy for a Sith Wayfinder in order to track down a mysterious message from the long-dead Emperor Palpatine. Carrying on from TLJ this is immediately interesting because Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in this entire trilogy. He's the Supreme Leader of the First Order, but he's a still a dragon, so it's like the insane young dynamo in charge of this Galactic Superpower. It's exhilarating and dangerous and could be fun. Then it stumbles immediately.

First of all, he's apparently on the planet Mustafar, which should have huge obvious symbolic implications. Isn't it worth us watching him visit Vader's castle? It's the planet where Anakin's final transformation into Darth Vader was complete, isn't that of worth to Kylo, who worships him? But we never even know it's Mustafar. What follows is demonstrative of the single-most pertinent structural issue of this film - everything is far too easy. The film opens presenting a great struggle for Kylo to find the wayfinder. Then he just kind of finds it. It's supposedly a huge dangerous journey to navigate to Exegol. Then he just kind of goes there. This happens again and again. JJ never challenges his characters. He presents quick threats that they defeat immediately. Nothing is ever earned.

So, right from the beginning, if I was writing my own film, I want to see Kylo struggle to balance governing the First Order, see the tension between him and Hux as the former would clearly see Kylo's active dragon role as unbefitting of a Supreme Leader (in both a practical and ideological sense) and to see Kylo in turn struggle with what he wants to do with what he needs to do. This is a common experience for a lot of young people in prominent roles. I'm there right now in my professional career. You see older people fail and you think it's easy to cover those mistakes, but it's not. Look at that, we're relating to a character, whose personality is so outrageous while simultaneously faces no accountability. It's raw and brutal and INTERESTING. While in this position of Supreme Leadership his desire to quash the voice of Palpatine makes a lot of sense. Why not have him tête-à-tête with Rey and continue to develop his ideals as he attempts to track the message down?

Instead he travels immediately to Exegol and meets Palpatine. My own nerdiness took me out of this, too. Why wasn't this Byss? Or Korriban? It seems like in addition to a crippling fear of association with the Prequel Trilogy the Sequels also like to avoid all references to the original Expanded Universe, despite having a wealth of locations and concepts to draw from. Anyway, Palpatine is there for no reason, along with clones of Snoke in big tanks that are I guess his backstory? This doesn't help.

The novelization has revealed that the Palpatine we see in this film is a clone. Okay. This also doesn't help. Why then was Snoke in the position he was? Was he an imperfect Palpatine clone? That's like...what a parody of the Sequels would do. Like, that was literally his function in the story - a shittier version of Palpatine in every meta sense. But Palpatine was a clone who I suppose, couldn't contain the power of Palpatine? Clones are so bad in fiction. It removes all possible tension. Even if we kill him, does that then mean that he could just return again? Did we kill all the clones of Palpatine in the universe?

This undoes a lot of Return of the Jedi (1983) in the worst ways. It cheapens Vader's sacrifice and position as the Chosen One. It lessens the intimate bond forged between Vader and Luke. As we will see later, this also means that Palpatine's goading of Luke to kill him was very genuine so he could transfer his spirit and when Vader's lightsabre interjected in one of the most famous shots in the film, it was actually against Palpatine's wishes. Just, what the fuck. More on that mess as we move to the climax.

As we move on, the same issues continue to mix and feed off each other. Kylo's motivation changes without any conflict or challenging progression. Palpatine tells him to kill Rey and he's cool with it, despite their will-they / won't they love and seems ready to bow to Palpatine despite his own 1) Worship of Darth Vader and 2) position as Supreme Leader. It just doesn't make any fucking logical sense as to where these characters have been, even in the first few minutes of this movie. It's JJ's continual desire to be cool and ingratiate to fans while bankrupt of ideas.

And maybe we can side-step again for a second and talk about how maybe this isn't totally JJ's fault. It is completely astounding to me to slowly realize that Disney had absolutely no plan of any kind when it came to this Trilogy. They threw out what George Lucas came up with. They through out all Extended Universe ideas. They let JJ do whatever he wanted with The Force Awakens (2015) and then Rian Johnson could do anything with TLJ. Bringing in Colin Trevorrow to do whatever he wanted and then trashing that as well. By all accounts they just decided to make this up as they went along, which is baffling considering how well they've handled a steady guiding hand with the Marvel movies.

This isn't entirely a bad thing except that Johnson and Abrams couldn't be more different filmmakers and going back and forth feels like cinematic whiplash. Abrams was all about reconnecting with the Original Trilogy and is generally a filmmaker who attempts to emulate his directing heroes, but is ultimately soulless. Johnson is a director who pushes hard against conventions and doesn't idolize or bow to nostalgia at all. It doesn't gel or flow, and Rise of Skywalker feels like the correction of a course that did not need adjusting (I will forever believe that TLJ was the most brilliant Star Wars film of all time - the epitome of all the noise-breaking we mentioned earlier). The end result is a series that feels rushed, disjointed, and always trying to restart itself.

Anyway, while I clearly dislike Abrams, he got a bum job with this film. After producers were dissatisfied with Trevorrow (some blame the script, I blame The Book of Henry [2017]), Disney through it back in Abrams' court who had two years to write and film one of the most anticipated film conclusions of all time from scratch. The end result is a cobbled together mess of ideas that largely don't work. Some kind of vision, allowed to develop and gestate would have resulted in a better experience - or at least someone who actually has his or her own ideas instead of Abrams, who it seems at a desperate point gave up and went with Palpatine.

This is the core of most of the issue with this movie. It seems like Abrams didn't know what to do with a Star Wars film without a major Sith Lord baddie at the core, and Johnson took care of Snoke. Maybe a little of this has to do with SOLO (2018)'s relative failure, but no one seemed to want to acknowledge how strong of a villain Kylo Ren is. Let's get back to this mess of a movie.

One aspect that has always felt false is how this movie seems to want all its characters to be best friends with the camaraderie of the Original Trilogy but again, it never quite earns that kinship. In his first video essay, Film Crit Hulk describes this in significant detail by way of analyzing A New Hope (1977). Interactions and meetings are organic, need-based, and crystallized through shared experiences triumphing through adversity. This Sequel Trilogy has always rather had its characters split up. Poe Dameron has suffered from this the most. He seems like a cocky Han Solo-type in TFA until he's presumed dead, but then he comes back fucking midway through the movie. He never shares experiences with Finn or Rey. In TLJ  he's stuck on the ship (while the movie brilliantly pins holes in all his Han Solo-esque misguided masculinity. Yeah, TLJ is the only movie to understand what to do with this trope character) while Rey and Finn have adventures with Luke and Rose respectively. No one has a chance to bond.

Thus beginning this film with a "Oh, here we go again!" sense of adventure feels so incredibly hollow. Not only that, but these characters aren't even allowed to grow together on their own adventure. So much is assumed. The characters travel to the Burning Man Planet for bizarre reasons but again always move on without consequence. They are found out by the First Order and then just kind of escape them. Then they get trapped in quicksand! But it's okay, it's just a cave. But then there's a big monster snake! Don't worry, Rey calms it down. But then they're trapped! Just kidding, there's a hole this Sith Assassin never found in years of searching and they escape. There is never a moment of real danger. A little later on I was struck by them charging through a hallway blatantly shooting Stormstroopers and thought back on A New Hope when Han does much of the same thing, only to be totally outmatched and run back the opposite way. The movie has such a desire to just move on and move on that there is no struggle at all.

They are always chasing a MacGuffin. Again to the point of parody. MacGuffins aren't terrible, Marvel gets a lot of flack for them, but there are hundreds of classic movies that feature them and they're a great trope when it forces audiences to focus on how the characters react to this arbitrary item, not the item itself. In TROS, though, it's obnoxious. They literally search for MacGuffins in order to translate MacGuffins that allow them to find other MacGuffins. It's contrived, and again, just far too easy. We don't get to see any character TESTED and we therefore don't get to understand anything about them. It becomes boring, we lose investment, and thus cultural potency.

The movie is also terrified of real consequences to any of its characters, especially its legacy characters. There is a complete fake-out of Chewbacca's death that's bungled so severe I was actually relieved when we find out Chewie is okay, just because it's completely insane to give such a beloved character an accidental off-screen death. We don't even see how it really affects the characters. Again, the audience knows Chewie is alive, which diffuses all tension with the characters. It's angrifying. At one point C-3PO needs his memory wipe so he can speak aloud the Sith language. It's played up as a sincere emotional moment (that makes no sense because he doesn't know any of these people), but then moments later R2-D2 backs up his memory. There is no lasting consequence. This is time to go for broke!

My mind wanders again to Avengers: Endgame, a film with arguably more to lose by retiring a horde of its core characters. It gains respect because of its boldness. TROS is a timid mess. We hardly get a moment to grieve Leia. Of course Carrie Fisher's passing impacted the film and there was little they could do, but she seems like she dies for no reason here. Her passing does have a monumental effect in that it sways Ren back to the light, but the jump of both her death and his turn are again, completely unearned and rushed.

Due to Carrie Fisher's death, Maz Kanata seems to take that role, which gets to a cringey bit of fan service where she gives Chewie his medal right before the final battle. Like... does anyone fucking understand how a story works here? Does anyone understand why it's important to receive a medal AFTER the big action story beats? Like, why it's important that Leia, in a position of both friend and authority, give Han and Luke their medals? Maz is fine, but like, who is this person? What experiences does Chewie have with her? We are again supposed to assume they had some off-screen adventure. It's insane and empty.

There's a lot in the film that continually make no sense. They go to Keri Russell's planet, who has some history with Poe and it's supposed to be a big deal that Poe was a former smuggler. It's just full of interactions that make no sense. Why is this controversial? How did it not come up before? It's layering character attributes quickly over characters who had none. Might this be a good time to talk about Poe and Finn? Sure.

They're so damn gay. And Disney is so completely afraid of how gay they are. There is no other reason for their inexplicable and immediate chemistry, their genuine love for each other, a continual need to impress each other and stay with each other. The movie lovingly tries to give both potential love interests to prove that they aren't gay. Poe gets Keri Russell, who becomes a distracting Abrams cameo more than anything, and Finn gets another black girl, because surely it'd be inappropriate for him to date white Rey. I want to get into both of this. Actually, three things here. There's a lot.

For the hundredth time, I want to acknowledge my anti-Abrams bias, but I was really distracted by the cameos from his friends. Greg Grunberg, Keri Russell, and Dominc Monaghan just don't work here. I don't know why this bothers me. Maybe because they aren't even cameos, they're just kind of there. Directors always have friend cameos. I think of Bruce Campbell showing up in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies or John Ratzenberger in Pixar movies or basically everyone in every Tarantino movie. Why am I so bothered by Abrams stuff?

Maybe it's because Greg Grunberg is the most uninteresting actor of all time. Or that Keri Russell is perfectly capable and should have been either all in or all out, not a random side character. Same with Dominic Monaghan. We again talk about transparency. We all know that every decision here is a corporate one designed to increase our interest in a property designed to make money. Bruce Campbell is a niche weirdo who brings a lot of fun to any movie he's in. I don't think Dominic Monaghan is that level. Maybe I'm a curmudgeon here. Call me out.

Okay, black girl. Her name is Jannah, which I had to look up. She comes in near the end as the leader of a troupe of former Stormtroopers, rides some horses on a Star Destroyer, and helps bring down their communication tower. It's all fun and there's a not-that-subtle nature vs. technology vibe that works fine and aligns with some light side one-with-the-universe themes this universe enjoys. But then it's heavily HEAVILY implied that she's Lando's daughter, and he then also kind of hits on her. What the hell is going on here? Are black people so rare that they must all be related? It just feels so Abrams. Johnson made an entire movie whose cogent them was that everyone has the potential to be special and we make our own destiny. Abrams just lives in a world where every single named main character HAS to be related to someone else. It breaks my brain.

Maybe now is a good time to get into fan service. This film is just full of it. Let's got to Endgame again because that movie is crazy with fan service. Cap and Thor's hammer. There. Why does it work there but not here, though? It's again about earning your service, moderating your service, and focusing it in service to the story. Chewie's medal is thrown in in such a way that it distracts from the story. As does Lando's daughter. Endgame's fan service is either in support of or in addition to, never at the expense at. That's a lot of prepositions, but at its core it's still about story and character.

Finn. Fucking Finn. I can't believe they dropped what he was going to say to Ray. That's not even a Chekov's Gun. That's literally just a dropped plot point. It's unbelievable. On a more racist note it seems like they couldn't admit this black kid was force sensitive, even though it's something I had assumed since the very first scene in The Force Awakens. It's pretty clear by the end of this film that Finn has force powers and it would have been awesome to seem him use them. I always thought this new trilogy was going to be about the both of them, and that never really happened. It's frustrating.

Rose. Hey - Rose! How the hell did she get the Jar Jar Binks treatment. Seriously - it's as if Abrams cowered to a minority group of online male harassers and wrote her out of this movie. It's part of blatant distancing from TLJ that recesses rather than innovates. There are a few more moments of shade, like Luke's ghost catching his own lightsaber instead of chucking it aside. It seems devoid of the heavy symbolism of the progression Johnson imbued in the character for a cheap potshot. This keeps happening throughout the whole film.

So this goes on for a while. Our characters chase MacGuffins and rally the troops and eventually wind up on Exegol in a last-ditch effort to stop the Final Order (the combined forces of the Sith Eternal and The First Order. Yeah, we need some explanation there, too, like who the hell are all these people). There is a little bit of TLJ here in that the universe rallies against the evil of Palpatine, and that's a nice message, but it makes no practical sense.

See, JJ really really doesn't care about logic. Like, how did Lando and Chewie fly the Millennium Falcon across the entire Galaxy to rally everyone against the Sith in like...what, fifteen minutes? This happens a lot. It's readily apparent that he doesn't understand that you can't see planets from space, after both Star Trek and TFA features characters witnessing planets being destroyed despite being across the Galaxy at the time. He likes playing with established universe rules. He messed with beaming all the time in Star Trek (to be fair, that often added to tension and excitement), but he really loves playing with the force. There are a lot of new abilities added here, from life force draining to the Dyad. The Dyad is cool, but also again just makes things so easy, like when Rey is able to give Kylo a lightsaber in his fight against the Knights of Ren. Let's get into those two Force things and how they ruin everything. This is a fun column.

Force Heal isn't without precedent, although it's pretty recent. It popped up in The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian before TROS. It's not even that crazy if it's something long forgotten Rey uncovered in the Ancient Jedi texts Luke gave her. Still, it's set-up and pay-off. Just set the scene up. Show Rey reading, learning, discovering. Instead we just see her doing it to a random sandworm on Burning Man Planet. It comes off like Rey just instinctively knew this stuff that would have been essential to like...every Jedi that ever existed ever. That's the thing about messing with mythos that have, if you want to conservatively begin with The Phantom Menace, has 67 years of canonical history. I know it's all fictional and this is the kind of thing that annoying fanboys bring up, so maybe I'm just adding to that pile, but when you add a cop-out healing technique this late in the game it begs the question why characters couldn't do this earlier. Once again, it's writing that exists without consequences and a Qui-Gon Jinn is still dead.

Knights of Ren. What is the deal with these guys? Again - set-up and pay-off. Show them doing something actually cool! What is the threat here? We are TOLD so much in this movie. It's like Captain Phasma. Who is this person, what is her motivation? I went into this film still believing Phasma would return because we saw no body and of course why would she be gone? We need something more. Again, because RJ killed Phasma, JJ needed the Knights of Ren. They stand around, do nothing, and then Kylo executes them all like punk bitches. They're stormtroopers. They could have been stormtroopers. When your characters are interchangeable there's no reason for them to exist.

Apparently there is a lot more interesting facts to read in supplementary material like the Visual Dictionary, the novelization, and hell, interviews with JJ Abrams. This is all terrible. Movies should exist as a text upon itself without the need for additional context. More and more films are leaning this way, in part because it promotes good synergy, and also because films like this simply move too fast to bother fleshing out context in a coherent way. Or they're too complex for their own good.

My mind again wanders. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is very much in this vein of revisited properties in a shallow cash-grab, but the result was not only a piece of art, but one that surpassed its original material. It establishes a boffo world quickly but with simple elements that viewers can immediately understand and relate to. Every action sequence raises stakes. Every beat is a set-back or move forward. It's one of the best constructed action films of all time. There isn't a reason why TROS couldn't be this. You don't have to explain everything but also don't have to rely on outside context.

Heading down this path, some of the issue is that there is no leap to be made to get to Fury Road. Not only is every Mad Max film connected only through its protagonist, but it explicitly makes an effort to work on its own merits. There is too great of a jump from the prequels to the OT to the sequels for this to work. I think a lot about the First Order. Their presence or power makes no sense in the world set up from Return of the Jedi. In my own head I liked to believe that they were a cult of Empire-worshiping insane misguided youth, like Neo-Nazis who are trying to emulate the look of the Empire without really understanding the refined class of Tarkin, the restraint of the Emperor, or the calm presence of Vader. That was always an interesting angle to me and sometimes in TFA this is blatant. They don't have a compelling reason to destroy a planet, they just kind of want to. This concept could obviously be developed a little more and it'd be fun to see them a little scrappier instead of inexplicably in possession of the most powerful navy in the Galaxy, but a lot of good ideas are there.

Palpatine's Final Order both feels a lot older, even more inexplicably powerful and resource heavy, and with a much less transparent mission and methodology. What did Palpatine actually want? Seriously. His motivations change every minute in the final moments of the film. He originally wanted Kylo Ren to assassinate Rey because she was a threat. Then he wanted Rey to kill him so that his spirit could take her over (was this always a thing? Wouldn't his spirit have taken over Vader, then? Or Luke when he attempted to kill him?). But then he decided to drain her life force. Again, this all proved to be no consequence. A drained Rey just got up and then killed him. Oh yeah - she did kill him! Why then didn't anything happen?! I felt like my brain was melting. Did it not count because it was his own Force Lightning directed back at him? Why didn't it just roast his face like in Revenge of the Sith (2005) or do nothing like Luke in RotJ? Why didn't he just....stop? Because then Rey would strike him down. THAT'S WHAT HE WANTED. My blood is getting agitated. I don't know what to do with this movie.

I hate getting caught up in these details, but understanding basic character motivations is one of the hardest things to do, and I can't remember a movie this big that fumbled so blatantly and so hard. It's indescribable. What did anyone want in this movie? It's all surface. Who was finding themselves? Where did we end up?

Rey is the main character and I haven't mentioned her at all. That's because the film gives her nothing interesting to do despite thrusting upon her one of the biggest revelations and giving her the biggest temptation. Except...no, she's not tempted at all! It gets back to Abrams' destiny thing. Luke was tempted by the Dark Side because he's impatient and childish and he wanted to save his friends and saw that as an easy means to do so. Anakin was tempted because he's angry and afraid and saw it as an easy way to save his wife, Padme. Rey certainly has an edge here, but where does it come from? Her love of Kylo? Her desire to save him? Her hatred of the First Order? The murder of her parents? No, none of these really holds weight. She sees a vision of herself as a dark side user that falls completely flat. She is most tempted by the Dark Side from the knowledge that she's Palpatine's granddaughter.

And we haven't mentioned it at all at this point, but your first thought at that should be...Palpatine fucks? And sure, he must, right? He's a powerful guy. But no, the novelization even eschewed that, citing that Rey's father was actually another clone of Palpatine. It's an unreal level of fucking up. It's astounding. It's a really weird feeling, actually, craving the maddening campiness of Ian McDiarmid's Prequel performance over his creepzilla take here. It's honestly more compelling! It's scarier when he's just a dude with machinations over the entire Galaxy rather than an all-powerful Sith God. It's so stupid. I'm so upset.

There is one more bit that the novel managed to screw up. For no reason. We weren't asking it to. At the end we finally get a Reylo kiss, which we have been dying for since Johnson dialed up the shirtless sex appeal in TLJ. Star Wars seems terrified of love or sex, though. How is the best love story we've gotten here Anakin and Padme and the sexiest thing they did was Force Slice pears and roll in the hills with shaaks? Is that why nerds like Star Wars so much - they can be fully invested and not worry about uneasy sexy time? So they removed any romance and made it a "kiss of gratitude." What is going on? Why can't we have nice things? Did Abrams understand the underpinning sexual tension in this movie? It just falls apart.

If you made it this far, congratulations. Suffice it to say that I did not care for this movie. It comes down to a core misunderstanding of both where the Star Wars universe has come from and to be honest, basic story structure. There is an obfuscation of character motivation, a petty script that rushes scenes instead of developing ideas, and a devotion to surface level fan service and action ahead of resonant themes or interesting characters. It's a mess on every possible level and although any Star Wars sparks a renewal of the backlog, it will not be fondly remembered years on down the line.

What makes this even more difficult is that this film premiered alongside The Mandalorian which is a show that did everything opposite of TROS and you now what happened? We're still getting Baby Yoda corona memes.

What do you think? Am I too petty and harsh? Let's chat below.
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