STAR WARS: The Ultimate Review (PART THREE)

Aidan Herklotz, Mr. Star Wars

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DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers for every Star Wars movie, especially The Rise of Skywalker. Also, while you don’t have to read my other two Star Wars review articles, some parts of this article might be a little confusing regarding my opinions on the other movies. This article also contains opinions that some may consider controversial. You have been warned.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, or even before that. In 2005, my parents took me to see The Revenge of the Sith in theaters. I was three years old, it was the first film I ever saw in theaters, and I don’t remember a second of it. And I’m sure I saw the other Star Wars movies on VHS before that, but you’ll have to ask my parents. What I’m saying is, I’m pretty devoted to the franchise, so I think I can review them properly.  Now that The Rise of Skywalker has been released, I think the time has come to finish my review series and talk about the sequel trilogy of movies. This one’s going to be a doozy, since these are regarded as the most controversial Star Wars movies (maybe even some of the most controversial movies of the decade in general). 

7) STAR WARS: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

At this point, you may have heard some things regarding the Star Wars fanbase and this film. Mostly everyone is under the impression that The Force Awakens is a carbon-copy of the original 1977 Star Wars. While Episode VII is extremely reminiscent of the original trilogy, I think that many of the characters and themes from the movie are very different. I will admit, some things are basically just copies of A New Hope — Jakku is Tatooine, Chewie is still Chewie, and BB-8 is the exact same as R2-D2 (the only difference is that BB-8 was put in the movie to sell toys, and has basically no other plot significance that R2 couldn’t fulfill, but I digress). Let’s just try to take it character by character and debunk what I call the “Plagiarism Theory” (or at least, I’ll do my best). 

Rey = Luke Skywalker

Star Wars fans are really split on whether Rey is a copy of Luke, or just a “Mary Sue”. If you don’t know, a “Mary Sue” is basically just a character (usually a woman, but that isn’t necessarily a rule) that is written to be the solution to all problems, skillful at many things without having proper training, and is overall unrealistically flawless. While I don’t believe that Rey is a copy, she definitely is a Mary Sue. Many say that “If Rey is a ‘Mary Sue’, then Luke has to be one too,” but this is blatantly untrue. If you think Luke has no flaws and is great at everything, then I don’t think you watched the original Star Wars at all. In the beginning of A New Hope, we learn a lot of things about Luke: he can shoot, he can fly, he can drive a speeder, he has basic mechanical skills, and he is a bit whiny and annoying, but he has a good heart. We know that Luke has these skills because the film shows them to us; Luke learned to shoot, operate machinery, and drive a speeder from his time working on the farm with Uncle Owen. We know Luke’s good at all these things because Owen needs him for the harvest, and he can’t run the farm without him.

While Luke’s skills, motives and flaws are all laid out for the audience so we can understand them, Rey is the exact opposite. The first thing that was established about Rey is that she’s alone, and she doesn’t know who her family is. We also know that she’s a skilled scavenger, she can take down three armed men with her skills with a stick, she speaks fluent droid and wookie, she can pilot a ship with a great level of skill, and she can repair the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo himself. Here is where I would explain how Rey has all of these unexplained skills, but I can’t. Rey’s loneliness and the unknown nature of her parents’ identity make it so that we’re never told how she can repair, fly, and fight with such ease.

The key difference that makes Rey a Mary Sue and Luke not is explanation. That’s the fundamental problem with Rey’s character. We know nothing about her, which makes us know nothing about her motivations or feelings. It doesn’t matter how much we’re told about her character, we need to see it to believe it (the fundamental “show don’t tell” principle). We know Luke can use a lightsaber effectively because we see him training with Obi-Wan, but Rey has no such training scene. To understand Rey, we must understand JJ Abrams’ approach to storytelling and his “Mystery Box” theory. Abrams believes that to keep an audience engaged, he needs to keep an unexplained element or a vague explanation under the surface, in order to keep them hooked for a potential sequel. This is why we don’t know who Rey’s parents are, who Snoke is, or how Maz Kanata got Luke’s lightsaber. This method is good for keeping the audience hooked and wondering what happens next, but it’s long term use usually brings about plot holes and bad writing. Since Abrams is so devoted to the mystery box theory, this film brings about major repercussions in the rest of the trilogy (but we’ll get to that later). Daisy Ridley’s performance is also not great, and Rey comes off as a bit emotionless, since Ridley has the same expression for the entire trilogy. In conclusion, Rey’s a pretty poorly written character, and Luke is much better. Let’s move on.

Kylo Ren = Darth Vader

I can totally see why people think that Vader and Kylo are similar characters. They’re both brooding, wear all black with cool helmets, and have red lightsabers. These similarities are actually essential to Kylo’s character. Kylo is trying to act as an imitation of Darth Vader, but he can’t actually get close enough to the real thing. He even seems like a distortion of Vader. Kylo tries to imitate Vader’s intimidation, but he just comes off as overly angry and violent. He tries to capture Vader’s commanding presence, but nobody ever listens to him (especially General Hux). He even tries to imitate Vader’s clothes and lightsaber, but his cape is always in tatters, and his saber looks like it was hastily made out of old scrap parts (plus his crystal is artificial, so he couldn’t even get that right). Kylo Ren has an evil image of Darth Vader in his head, but this is only a product of misinformation on Snoke’s behalf. We all know Vader was actually the good guy in the end, but Kylo only sees the dark side in Vader and none of the light. And this conflict in him actually makes for a pretty complex character with an arc throughout the entire trilogy, making him one of my favorite parts about these movies. Adam Driver’s stellar performance enhances the character; I can totally see why that guy won an Oscar (even if his face kinda looks like a horse).

Poe Dameron = Han Solo

People who compare Han to Poe don’t fundamentally understand Han’s character and arc in A New Hope. Poe is basically Han if he had already discovered his cause. Han’s character conflict in the original was his internal struggle between his selfish and selfless sides, and Poe is only working for the good of the people and the galaxy, not for himself. That being said, Poe also doesn’t have nearly enough plot significance to be compared to Han; he’s basically missing for half the movie. While we’re talking about Han, he’s also had quite a bit of character change since the original trilogy: we now know that Han’s skepticism in the original trilogy has been taken over by an understanding of the force (see: “That’s not how the force works!”). This is understandable; he married a force user, anyway. Han’s more like Obi-Wan in this film, but he’s still got that trademark wit and sarcasm. While I really like Han’s whole story in this film (especially with Kylo Ren), and his death is pretty impactful, I still would’ve rather wanted him to die in Return of the Jedi. We’ll talk more about the Poe-Han comparison in the Episode IX section, so stay tuned!

There are so many other comparisons I could touch on, but I think I’ve covered enough as it is. I don’t believe The Force Awakens is a complete clone of the original, but some parts do definitely pay homage. I’m talking about Starkiller Base, the trench run, and a few lines or character moments. The entire film seems like more of a “best moments” reel of the entire original trilogy. Thankfully, the next film in the series won’t be as similar. Basically, The Force Awakens showed the potential for the sequel trilogy, and I know I was excited for what would come next. 

FINAL REVIEW: 7/10 dead Han Solos. Homage. 

8) STAR WARS: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

Oh dear God, I am not looking forward to reviewing this one. If you’ve been following the Star Wars films for the past couple of years, then you’ll know that this film has caused a 50/50 split in the fanbase (hell, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes is 53%), which I will be calling The Great Schism. Before The Great Schism, Star Wars fans were (almost) all united in the fact that The Force Awakens was extremely similar to A New Hope. Episode VIII turned the conversation a whole different direction: does The Last Jedi suck? I believe I have the right answer — it’s just okay. 

One of the main complaints about The Last Jedi is that it’s too different from the rest of the franchise. This has become a bit of a joke about the fanbase, since the main complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s too similar, but let’s try not to focus on the fans for a bit. I think the reason The Last Jedi is so radically different from the rest of the franchise is because it’s the first Star Wars film with a solid theme: failure. This is seen throughout the entire film — when Poe fails to save the bombers while attacking the dreadnaught; when Luke refuses to teach Rey because of his failure training Ben Solo; when Finn and Rose fail to disable the hyperspace tracker on the First Order fleet; I could go on. Yes, themes are very good in film, but I believe that The Last Jedi kinda relies, or maybe depends on their characters failing all the time.

If people don’t like Rose because she has corny dialogue (let’s face it: all Star Wars movies have this), or because her acting isn’t good (sorry Kelly Marie Tran), it’s simply because her writing makes her seem like an idiot. Why does Rose park the Resistance ship on the beach on Canto Bight when she could’ve easily parked in a parking lot. We’re told that it’s a very famous casino, so it should have a proper parking lot. I’d be fine if this was just a throwaway joke, but it directly influences the plot. Why does Rose trust DJ when he’s obviously untrustworthy? He steals a ship, he profits from both sides of the war, and he talks like a literal snake. Anyone could spot that this guy is a traitor.

Anyway, now let’s talk about Finn, who is one of my least favorite parts about this movie. This is a shame, since he was one of the best parts about The Force Awakens. Episode VIII basically undoes all character development Finn had in the last movie. Finn’s arc in Episode VII was about him learning not to run from his problems and the problems of the galaxy and finally finding something to fight for, which I liked, and I thought was very reminiscent of the original trilogy (here I go with comparisons again). The Last Jedi begins with Finn trying to run away again, and throughout the rest of the movie they basically just repeat his entire arc from the last movie, as if nothing had ever happened. This is because Finn needed to try to run away, so that we could have him fail again.

I’d be fine with this if the characters actually learned from their mistakes and failures and grew from them, but that doesn’t happen at all. Kylo fails to beat Rey and is humiliated by Snoke, so he gives up on turning her to the dark side and tries to kill her even harder. Admiral Holdo’s death proves that sacrificing yourself for the cause is a good thing to do, but then Rose and Finn’s story shows that sacrificing yourself isn’t the way to go and that love will always prevail, but then Luke sacrifices himself to save the Resistance in the end anyway.

Also, and I’ve heard this one done to death, but why didn’t Holdo just tell Poe about her plan? That would’ve avoided a lot of conflict for the characters, not to mention an entire mutiny for Holdo. Speaking of, Poe didn’t get any punishment for mutinying or disobeying Leia and Holdo; all he got was a slap on the wrist. I don’t care if the story has to go this way to get to the big, cool setpieces, it’s still bad writing. Inconsistency like this infuriates me. It really just makes the characters seem stupid and impulsive (which is definitely not intended). 

Speaking of inconsistency, let’s talk about comedy in relation to the tone of The Last Jedi. Upon re-watching all of the Star Wars movies in preparation for this article, I noticed some moments that seemed… off. There would be one scene with an intense or dark tone, and then it would be followed by a moment of bizarre comedy, or vice-versa. Here are some examples: right before an intense battle with many casualties, Poe makes yo-mama jokes at Hux, or that scene after the battle when Leia is lamenting the loss of her loyal soldiers, and then Finn-naked-leaking-bag. I usually like the tone of Episode VIII — it’s really dark, hopeless, and pretty tense — but these inconsistent moments really take me out of the experience.

Now let’s get on to some of the parts I liked about The Last Jedi. Obviously, the soundtrack is really good, but it’s Star Wars, so that’s basically a given at this point. The special effects are also probably the best in the franchise so far, but to me, you can’t really beat the amazing (and groundbreaking) practical effects of the original trilogy. Anyway, let’s finally talk about the cinematography, set design, and background design, which are absolutely beautiful. This is easily the most visually stunning Star Wars movie, and that’s the main reason why I re-watch it. It’s simply pleasing to look at, and I think it’s one of the best parts about this movie. 

Another one of my favorite parts about The Last Jedi is the storyline between Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Firstly, Rey and Kylo Ren have a really interesting dynamic, which I think both of their characters benefit from (and it’s obviously amplified by Adam Driver’s acting; he’s way too good for this franchise). The development of their relationship throughout the story is pretty great, and I like the conflicting stories of how Luke’s Jedi Order fell. Also, the new “force link” (or whatever) power is pretty cool, unlike the new power from The Rise of Skywalker, which I’ll obviously talk about later.

One of the things the fans complained about the most was Luke, claiming that he was acting out of character, which I think is untrue. You see, these fans want Luke from the now non-canon “expanded universe”, who was blatantly overpowered. The thing I like the most about Luke is that he has always had believable character flaws throughout the franchise, and The Last Jedi does this very well, even if many aspects of his personality have changed somewhat. Trying to kill his nephew that he might think is dangerous isn’t out of character because, as he said, “It passed like a fleeting shadow. And I was left with shame and with consequence.” Luke is by far the most interesting character in this film, and I think the way he died was absolutely perfect (and his fight with Kylo Ren managed to make one of the best lightsaber fights in the series without actually having lightsabers touch). 

Basically, I feel bad for The Last Jedi, and that’s mostly the fans’ fault. I don’t think the film is nearly as bad as people say it is, but it’s definitely not good either. I think Episode VIII really tried too hard to be different from the rest of the franchise, which made it fall flat in a lot of places. I’m really excited for Rian Johnson’s solo trilogy, though.

Also, I didn’t know where to put this in, but Porgs are the worst, and they have no significance besides selling toys. A lot of people say that this is one of the ways that Disney has ruined Star Wars, but this has been a constant for literally the entire history of the franchise. Once more, George Lucas is a businessman first and a filmmaker second.

FINAL REVIEW: 6/10 roasted porgs. Polarizing.

9) STAR WARS: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Oh boy, this is the big one. This film promised to end the Skywalker Saga and fulfill the legacy of the original film. Did it succeed? No, not at all. In fact, it ended up as kind of a mess. That’s the only way I could really describe this film: a mess. This is because one of the main purposes of it was to undo everything that was done in the Last Jedi. I blame both JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson for this. What Abrams did was set up a lot of questions that didn’t have any answers in The Force Awakens (see “Mystery Box”), then Johnson tried to twist all these into something completely different (see “attempting to subvert expectations”), and that didn’t go so well so then Abrams tried to answer all his “Mystery Box” questions from Episode VII. If you didn’t understand any of that, then good. It’s a mess. This could’ve been avoided by either giving Johnson the entire trilogy, giving Abrams the entire trilogy, or giving it to someone else. Either way, it would’ve been better. But these are just problems I have with the sequel trilogy in general. Let’s talk about The Rise of Skywalker. 

This movie is so rushed. So many things are thrown out there and just not answered at all because, “Oh, we need to get to the next thing!” Some examples follow. How exactly did the Emperor come back? How did the Emperor get thousands of star destroyers? How did all the star destroyers get crews (i.e. those “Sith-Stormtroopers”, where did those guys come from)? How did Anakin’s lightsaber get fixed? How was Chewie captured and brought to the First Order when we never saw the second shuttle he got away on? When and why did Leia train to be a Jedi with Luke? Who are the Knights of Ren? How did Maz Kanata get Anakin’s lightsaber and, for that matter, Chewie’s medal (also, according to canon, Chewie already got a medal on Yavin IV, it was just too small for his massive wookie neck)? Why am I still listing things?

All of these have maybe one line of explanation, and usually it’s pretty vague (i.e. “The dark side is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”). These are basically a consequence of trying to get to the next plot point as quick as we can so we can finish this goddamn franchise already. 

Rumours on the internet tell of a fabled “Abrams-Cut” which actually explained a lot of things I had just come up, but until that’s released (if ever), this is the version of the film I’ll be working with (but I’d love to update this review if we ever get the Abrams cut).

These problems were so glaring to me that halfway into watching the film for the first time (I’ve seen it three times, if you were wondering), I legitimately thought that the screen would go black and the text “Episode X Releases 2020” would come up. This blatant rushing of the plots is a real shame, because there’s a lot of really good potential with a lot of elements in this film. I liked the whole Sith cult idea, I really liked Hux being a spy, and I thought the Knights of Ren were really cool, but all of these had one, maybe two scenes. 

One of the most glaring problems I noticed in my rewatches was something wrong with the scenes: some things just went on too long, and it seemed really awkward. I think this is a problem with the writing, but it’s hard to pinpoint where this issue stemmed from. I’ll break down the examples one by one: That scene where Zori and Poe were walking up stairs and one of them tells a joke, and then it cuts to the droid mechanic (Babu Frik?) laughing. Why is this in the movie? If a joke is funny, then we should know it’s funny. Having another character laugh at it is the same as a laugh-track in a sitcom.

Sometimes the writing just tells us what to feel and do, like when Ben Solo is having that emotional moment with Han, and then he turns around and chucks his lightsaber into the water. Firstly, this is just blatantly making fun of The Last Jedi, and secondly, it’s basically slapping my face with symbolism. I would’ve just accepted letting go of the hilt and having it fall to the ground, but we just had to see Adam Driver goofily throw it so that everyone would understand (as if we all didn’t already). I could go on with this whole thing, but it’s most apparent when you watch the actual film.

Princess Leia shouldn’t have been in this movie, at least not nearly as much as she is. Yes, I love Carrie Fisher, and her death was a real tragedy, but I don’t think cutting together deleted scenes from previous films is the right way to go. It really takes me out of the film; whenever Leia comes on scene all I think is “Man, I wonder what she did in the original scene.” I would be fine with it if it were just one scene, because I really like her death and how she tried to reach out to Ben. This whole “We have to have Leia in this movie” thing really makes a lot of her scenes awkward, since the scenes were written specifically to include her, and that’s never a good sign. I think these scenes are really besmirching her legacy, since she’s actually a good actress, but this film makes her seem like a doddering old woman who doesn’t know what she’s doing. It makes me sad when I think about it.

Once again, my absolute favorite part about this film is the Emperor. The first scene in Episode IX is a good lesson on how to hook an audience. First we’ve got Kylo Ren tearing sh*t up on this planet, then that scene transition with the Sith Wayfinder and Kylo’s ship is great, then the temple on Exegol is looming and mysterious. Then… out of the shadows… the Emperor looks really gross, and I love it. Before release, I honestly thought that he’d look exactly like he would in Episode VI, because of fanservice and all, but this is way better than I could’ve anticipated. The Emperor is delightfully hammy and evil, just how I like him. Although, I’m sort of disappointed that there wasn’t an Ewok death cult formed around him after the second Death Star exploded, and the Ewoks were all nursing him back to health, but that was just a crackpot theory of mine.

In my The Force Awakens section, I promised to talk more about Poe, and I kinda like him in this. Abrams tried to make him more like Han Solo; give him a relationship with Chewie and the Falcon, have him trash-talk 3P0, give him a criminal backstory, snappy dialogue, etc. I probably like Poe more because I like Han a lot. Go figure. There were a few scenes that I had issue with; sometimes the writers had him go out and say exactly what the character felt, which annoyed me because it never gave Oscar Isaac a real chance to show off his acting chops. 

Alright, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: force healing is a thing now, I guess? This force power completely breaks a lot of things in the entire franchise. So many problems and deaths could’ve been avoided in the franchise simply with force healing. You may say: “Oh, it had to be in the movie for the Emperor to be killed in the end, and they explained it earlier in the movie!” Firstly, I don’t care, that’s just bad writing. If something is “essential to the plot” even if it doesn’t make sense, then you should try to find a way to write around it. Secondly, I feel like when this was first being written they randomly added force healing in the end and then tried to go back and justify it, which is why we have that weird scene where they get attacked by a snake underground. I don’t know what causes more plot-holes in the sequel trilogy: Force healing in IX, or the “Holdo Maneuver” in VIII. Why didn’t the Jedi just force heal Qui-Gon, why didn’t the Rebellion just use hyperspace missiles to destroy the Death Star. Who knows? 

Overall, it’s not a particularly bad movie, many parts are well done. It’s got a lot of big emotional beats and moments, but they’re undercut by some bad writing and underwhelming cinematography (the action scenes are shot too close to the actors’ faces, which is a shame because most of the action scenes take place in these cool setpieces). I think if we were given another movie, or just if we had given the entire trilogy to Johnson or Abrams, they could’ve told their entire vision without trying to one-up the other filmmaker. This entire trilogy had great potential, but fell flat in a lot of places.

FINAL REVIEW: 6/10 completed franchises (for the next 20 years, at least). Rushed

 

Alright, it’s finally over, I have completed my review of the numerical Star Wars films. Now I can finally rest. Although, I could still do the spinoffs… and The Mandalorian… I guess you’ll have to stay tuned.