I’m torn, on one hand, this franchise has been the most important to me overall. LOTR is right up there too, but this one started it; me wanting to be a filmmaker and showing what was possible beyond studios and red tape, and creating something that never existed. And now, since Disney, and since the director who shall not be named (his initials are JJ), got their hands on it, it’s stuck in a loop of not moving forward really, more just like being stuck on repeat. Bitch about Lucas all you want, the bottom line is the stories were better when he was writing them and the story kept moving into new directions, not just simply repeating what’s already been done which is what the house of mouse has been doing ever since they got their paws on it.
The reason I’m torn is because I want to like this but I’m starting to slip away from it. I thought with Rian Johnson at the helm, we had a shot at something more original, I was wrong. While the story has new elements or new aspects to the characters (like sad, angry Luke Skywalker), the arc of the storyline is largely just more of the same (via Empire): A lone jedi, Rey, seeking training from seasoned exile (a la Yoda) in the form of Luke on a deserted island at the edge of the universe. Meanwhile, the First Order (the Empire) is hunting down the last of the rebels and trying to wipe them out. At the head of the First Order is the master, Snoke (the Emperor) along with his apprentice Kylo Ren (Vader) and their arsenal of weaponry destroying planets, etc. Sound familiar?
I’ll leave it there so as not to reveal any real spoilers but, wow. Moving on to the effects, visually it’s well crafted but isn’t really offering anything we haven’t seen before. There’s one sequence in particular with Leia that looks very CG, but other than that, the effects look great, just not unique. It’s sad that I feel that way I guess but aside from the porgs, which were cute but not annoying thankfully, there wasn’t anything here that’s innovative. I say innovative with the porgs because they were actually created by Rian Johnson to solve the problem of covering up the puffin population on Skellig Island where the scenes with Luke were shot. That initial solution to a production problem became a fun gag here and there throughout parts of the film.
The actors are all great. I tip my hat to Mark Hamill in particular because he didn’t initially agree with the vision of his character that was presented to him. He eventually came around to the idea of it but the bottom line is that it didn’t effect his performance, he didn’t just phone it in. He owned the grief of the character and in some ways even reminded me of his initial struggles with darkness when he first visited Yoda. Everyone knows every actor in here so I’m not going to bother with the lineup with the exception of saying that Andy Serkis plays Snoke. He gets the best CG character roles ever.
And so I land here. I think it’s a solid B, it makes up for the horrific Episode VII, but it doesn’t come close to how great Rogue One is. My big concern is where does it go from here? It ended in a very familiar way and it looks like they’ve set the stage for more of the same. Sadly, with the director who shall not be named in charge for Episode IX, I really doubt I’ll even bother to see that one in the theater, I’ll wait for it on Netflix or iTunes. This might be the point where Star Wars has jumped the shark for me.
reviewed by Sean McKnight