This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Ted’s review published on Letterboxd :
This review may contain spoilers.
Wow, it finally happened: A new Star Wars movie. I made sure to see it opening night so I'd have the least amount of external influences possible but even that was near impossible due to the extravagant amount of minor spoilers, leaks, and the grand reception it received at it's premier a couple nights ago. I'm not going to give it a final star rating until I see it a second time with my family, but here is my overall impression in short: The movie is good. In fact it's pretty good bordering on very good but never quite reaches it. At its core there is a wonderfully cast set of great characters that fit into the Star Wars universe greater than any have since the original film. This is it's greatest victory by far. What it fails at, however, are an exorbitant amount of minor details related to the presentation of the film and its drama that follow one after the other with consistency. This "review" is going to be less of one and more of a detailed nitpicking of things that are holding this back from being a historically great film. I'm writing this out all tonight while it's still fresh in my head from the first viewing. This is going to be extensive and OBVIOUSLY spoiler related. See the film first.
Cut most of the shots related to his development before the rescue out entirely. During the opening battle sequence we see 4 or 5 shots entirely devoted to showing Finn as a Stormtrooper both out of his element and noticed by his superiors for failing to deliver like the rest of his comrades. What we need to keep is this:
>Finn holding his fellow trooper as he dies and gets blood smeared on his helmet.
>Finn, now blood smeared, refusing to fire on the innocent villagers
>Kylo and him looking at eachother on the battlefield
That's IT. The confused shots of him inbetween these, the approach he gets from Phasma about inspecting his rifle, and his helmet removal reveal in the same scene all detract from the moment he rescues Poe from his entrapment. When Kylo and Phasma discuss Finn's betrayal we now wonder how they let him slip through their fingers rather than, if we kept only the moments I specified, seeing the pre-development of Finn entirely as a helmeted stormtrooper . Wondering about his face when seeing the massacre behind the mask is more interesting on its own than his flustered and sweaty panting back aboard the ship. It also heightens the tension of when Finn first approaches Poe while imprisoned. In the movie we KNOW that it's Finn, whereas if those cuts were to be made, all that we know is that there was a stormtrooper experiencing a (disturbing) lack of faith on the battlefield and when Finn reveals himself to Poe it is then that we know for sure it's the same character. This also heightens Kylo's importance for when he admits he noticed Finn on the battlefield; him having the sole knowledge of it makes his force driven insight more valuable to the Order.
Later on with Rey there is a moment where he has to lie about being a member of the resistance in order to impress her as a young lady and gain her trust so he can escape with them. The moment is perfectly built up to and then Boyega perfectly delivers the line only to be followed by repeating it about 3-4 times in an exaggerated *wink wink* tone that is so out of touch it more closely resembles a Disney Channel show joke than a classic Star Wars one. It is lame, it is unfunny, and it ruins one of the best comic relief moments of the film. The fact that the audience outrageously laughed only made the cringe even worse.
Much about Ren is interesting but falls flat because of the lack of finesse and mystery behind him.
After his opening scene leading the assault on the Jakku village we learn EVERYTHING there is to know about him for the whole movie. It is explicitly stated by Snoke within 20 minutes of the film that he is Han Solo's son. Boom; mystery and motivation destroyed. Immediately following this scene there is another scene with Ren in a monologue about how he is tempted by the light side, something that both is weird in the place of 40 years of established lore and ruins any chance of exciting development with his character and relationships as the movie goes on. What should be kept is
>The beginning dialogue from Max Von Sydow referring to his good origins
>The way Han coyly talks about Luke's failed Jedi school, the way Han looks at him as he carries Rey into the shuttle, and his conversations with Leia about their son.
>The final confrontation between Han and Kylo, sans a few seconds of the time Kylo spends teary-eyed drawn to give up his sith ways. The good in him should seem like a brief flash of hope spurred by his father's love as opposed to an equal and independent force against the dark side. This would make the scene more brief and thus have more of an emotional impact when it ends. It also makes Leia's comments about Han being able to reach him as his father more true, alongside her being the first person to mention the good in him. That sense of a mothers love and intuition has more meaning than an angsty son with daddy issues throwing fits the entire movie.
Overall that would give Kylo's character a simple "show, not tell" approach that anyone with a brain understands is more effective in cinematic drama. Alongside Kylo's scenes, Snoke needs to be MUCH less present in the film and if I had it my way not seen at all. The presentation of a generic alien as a giant projection and having almost as much screen time as Poe Dameron ruins the mystique of how much power he really might have, much like the simple scene with the Emperor in ESB. His design itself is not unique or disturbing enough to carry the weight of his character, so tried and true dramatic methods should have been used. As it stands Snoke is basically a carbon copy of the villain from Guardians of the Galaxy, a comparison so evident that it's the only thing obviously carrying negative influence from Disney throughout the entire film.
There is a moment where Domnhall Gleeson's character gives a Nazi speech with Nazi banners to a hoard of stormtroopers who then give a Nazi salute. There is not a single good reason for this. We are show the evils of the order more than once, we remember the evils of the Empire, and the soldiers are already called stormtroopers. This scene is lazy and insulting and could be removed entirely if it wasn't also the reveal of the Order's grand weapon. If I had to make only one cut here it would be of the Nazi salute. That would make the scene bearable.
When Han and Leia first meet on screen the moment has a lot built up to it and the payoff is great. The problem is that their sappy attitude upon the moment they see each other never once shifts even half an emotional degree to the point where their embracing conversation is made entirely redundant by their parting conversation. All we need is their discussion of their son to happen once and their admittance of faults to happen once. Only once. When Han departs it should just be the interaction of Leia saying "Despite all the fights I always missed you when you left" and Han's response of "I know, that's why I did it: to make you miss me." and then leave on that note. This way it feels like there is a fun and love filled future for them to rebuild their relationship while still not ignoring the danger of the current mission. As it stands we get about 5 minutes in total of repetitive dialogue that alludes heavily to the idea that Han probably won't come back. It belittles the climax of the film and messes with a great reunion that people have been waiting 32 years to see.
This, up until now, has been nothing but a cut list. If nothing were added or modified to the film apart from these cuts it would be a massive improvement. There are, unfortunately, a few things that really can't be undone or changed entirely. Again, many of these are minor, but they're all either "basic film making 101" or "basic Star Wars 101."
When the Order reveals its massive weapon it unleashes it on multiple planets we've never heard of and have no connection to. We are told immediately as the weapon is about to be fired that the target is the planet that holds the government structure of the current Republic. We hear nothing of the Republic and none of the characters have connections to these planets. When the weapon goes off everyone on screen is horrified yet we feel nothing due to the total lack of build up in any sense at all. Even Finn, who then admits he knew about the weapon, is just as shocked as the Resistance forces in the moment. He never mentioned anything about it before so we don't feel what he's feeling on screen, we're told about it afterwards.
The score itself is honestly really disappointing especially coming from John Williams himself and the great song in the films first theatrical trailer. Many visually arresting battles or key moments are underridden by the lackluster music behind them. In fact the only moments of the film where the score is moving are when it recalls themes from the Original trilogy to either recall or reinvent feelings and motifs from the old story and characters. In my opinion I think that the score of the film should have been almost entirely rehashes of the old scores. We know that they work and there's no reason to pretend it's not a Star Wars movie.
For the most part, the revelation of Rey as a force sensitive character is great, notably the vision sequence and her scenes with Kylo. What is less engaging, however, is how this goes along with a check list of the same things that hinted at force power in the first two movies: Rey somehow knows that the force can be used to mind trick people despite not even believing in the force until earlier that day. The scene where she invokes it following the good scene between her and Kylo has some pretty bad comedic timing and feels more like JJ and co. wrote themselves into a corner involving her escape and decided to use that as a moment to insert recycled material. Difficult to change entirely, but if I were to modify it I'd show her calling the stormtrooper over and then cut before he responds, leaving the moment in suspense until Kylo comes to find her escaped. At least that would obliterate the dry and absent humor from the scene. Also, if Rey's on screen use of the force is diminished, then when see pulls the lightsaber away from Kylo Ren during the final duel then it would be more impressive and exciting.
The overall plot of there being a planet sized death star, there being an easy way to destroy it, and there being an x-wing trench run to destroy it it the lamest part of the film's core that cannot be altered in any way. Right now it is just another groan inducing facet to the movie but if it were one of a few unimpressive moments rather than one of many it wouldn't be so bad. After all, it's stylistically designed to be that way.
To end this all I'm going to say is that I think I could write for even longer about what good this film does. The freshness of the visuals, the pacing, the fantastic new characters, and the genuine emotional heart of the film are wonderful and I'm so glad that this film was made. That doesn't stop me from looking forward to fanedits.