MOVIESPOP CULTUREStar Wars: A Review of the New and a Retrospective of the Past

I’m not going to lie; I’m scared to talk about this movie. I’ve been back and forth on whether or not I’m a Star Wars fan. I remember watching the movies over and over again in my mother’s best friend’s basement when I was a child. I also remember seeing many of the prequel films in theaters when I was a smaller. Of course, they haven’t aged well for me. I do stand by the visual excitement...
Aaron Vaughn2 months ago6837 min
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I’m not going to lie; I’m scared to talk about this movie. I’ve been back and forth on whether or not I’m a Star Wars fan. I remember watching the movies over and over again in my mother’s best friend’s basement when I was a child. I also remember seeing many of the prequel films in theaters when I was a smaller. Of course, they haven’t aged well for me. I do stand by the visual excitement of the The Phantom Menace being enough to entertain most children, but the film is not well structured enough to hold up in most people’s minds. Attack of the Clones is way too boring for anybody. Then The Revenge of the Sith is an extremely flawed movie that still has some elements working for it. With all that said I watched the original trilogy countless times. I would sometimes finish the last one and then just start all over again. I loved Luke, Han, and many more characters from these films. The most important character in Star Wars to me was the Star Wars World itself. All the little things that could be going around elsewhere in the universe is what really caught my attention. To me it’s always felt like there was more to these movies beyond the Skywalker name. That’s why it’s unfortunate that the mainline films have been so scared to leave that name. I’ve turned my attention to other things since the little me put A New Hope in the VHS machine for the first time. I’ve found Deadpool and Batman. I’ve also become a devoted fan of Twin Peaks and Deadwood too. There are just other fandoms that I have followed more, but I still kept up with Star Wars. I’ve watched the animated shows and have even read a lot of the current comic books. So Star Wars has always been a part of my life and I have always enjoyed it and critiqued it (I critique the things that I love just to let you know). I think I am a fan. I wasn’t as actively vocal as others, but with my interest in the comics and other pieces of spin off media, I think that I’ve followed the franchise more than some other fans. Though after this new film, I really don’t know if I’m a fan anymore.

It’s weird talking about this new film because I haven’t really been talking about these new Disney films since they came out. I’ll try to go through my thoughts on everything that has come out since the Disney purchase.

First there is the Force Awakens, directed by JJ Abrams. This is a movie that I think is good on a technical standpoint, but I find no enjoyment within it. It’s feels way too familiar to A New Hope. If I wanted a New Hope I would’ve watched A New Hope. Also I didn’t like how powerful Rey came across out of the opening. She was good at everything and it annoyed me. Luke even had to work at becoming a hero. Sure, even after learning that he was supposed to be the chosen one after the prequels, he still had to put in the work to become the hero that people needed. Rey could beat Kylo Ren with no training. This sent out a message to me that just said: “You can do anything if you were born to do anything.” These weird messages did start with the prequels, but I think it became more of a problem when Rey could do anything she puts her mind to. With all that said, I still understand the positive reception the movie got. It was a well paced and made film. Though I find the main character to be too one dimensional I do think Daisy Ridley did a good job with what she was given. Also John Boyega and Oscar Isaac really stood out in the film. Though I do think a lot of my issues with the film should be talked about, I understand what worked for the movie.

Next came Rogue One. I’m going to tell you now, this is my favorite of the Disney produced films. Yeah, I agree that it might have too many characters for its own good and some of the CGI characters are a little distracting, but I do like the natural chemistry between it’s characters and how it feels like something new within the Star Wars franchise. Most of the Star Wars films have taken place during times of war, but the only actual movie that feels like a war film is Rogue One. Sure, some of the animated series have been able to get across that tone, but this was the only movie that tried to go for it. The film did have some production issues about which direction the movie should go, but despite this it’s the first film in the series that felt like it wanted to do something different.

Then came The Last Jedi written and directed by Rain Johnson. This was the film that made me start to question the future of the franchise. Don’t take this to mean that I disliked the film, I actually liked the movie. I didn’t think it was incredible, but I still had a lot of fun with it. It did feel like multiple episodes of a TV show crammed into a single movie, which as a result made it feel a bit inconsistent. Also what I liked most about the film is likely it’s greatest weakness. The movie concerns itself by reinventing the future of the franchise and having the characters change what was problematic of the Jedi. The movie points out that the Jedi is what creates the Sith and their teachings were a bit questionable. The prequel trilogy showed that the Jedi would recruit children to become what are essentially monks with very limited life choices. The prequels also showed that most of the well known antagonist in the franchise were formal Jedi. I know that people like to ignore the prequels due to their inferior quality, but these are ideas introduced into the franchise that could lead into interesting plot lines. The problem with The Last Jedi is that it’s more concerned with setting up the future rather than doing with it in the present. Unfortunately due to the troubled production of the sequel and the reaction to this film a lot of this idea did end up being ignored, making this film feel ineffective. One of the biggest critiques of the film was the film’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. People were thrown off by the more jaded Luke, especially with how it ended for him in Return of the Jedi. In my opinion, Luke has never been a perfect character. Even after becoming a Jedi Master he has felt like a character that is capable of being broken, at least to me. I thought this Luke made sense considering everything that he had lost, but I guess many disagreed with me. People tend to blame Rain Johnson for this, but I would like to point out that it was JJ Abrams that set up a Luke Skywalker that cut himself away from society in the film before. A Luke that had lost all of his Jedi and community (a detail which I think supports his change, but I guess that’s just me). I know people like to talk down on this movie for changing everything that the previous film did and I do agree with that. I think if you objectively look at it as a sequel, it doesn’t pay that much service to the film before (just so there’s no confusion, I mean only The Force Awakens). Many people also say that he undoes a lot what Abrams had planned, I would argue that Abrams probably never really had a plan. Force Awakens was just a remixed version of A New Hope and the natural progression would’ve just been a remixed version of Empire Strikes Back. I think Rain Johnson thought that people would’ve grown tired of that in the next film. This is also when the fanbase seemed the most off putting to me. I know that fanbases can get pretty toxic as they grow, but no other fanbase has told me “fuck you” for liking a movie. I like The Last Jedi, but after it the film it seemed like the studio wanted to go back to tradition.

Solo was next and it in many ways spelled the end of this era of Star Wars films for me. The original directors were fired from this movie because the producers and writers wanted to go for a more familiar Star Wars tone while Chris Miller and Phil Lord wanted to go for something more familiar to their previous work, which would’ve been a comedy. They were then fired and replaced with Ron Howard. Firstly, why do spinoff films if there are no new takes? Also, why did you hire the Jump Street directors if you didn’t want a comedy? To me, Solo just showed me that Disney no longer wanted to take risks with Star Wars. They wanted to be safe which in turn started to make Star Wars boring.

Now we are at Rise of Skywalker and JJ Abrams is back to conclude this trilogy that had no plan starting off. I wasn’t very excited for this movie; in fact I’ve lost most excitement for Star Wars since The Last Jedi. The only thing to bring me genuine enthusiasm for Star Wars has been the recent video game, Jedi: Fallen Order. A game that I very much recommend. Even just looking up the cut scenes on YouTube will be able to scratch that Star Wars itch. Nevertheless, I’ve been watching all of these movies and I didn’t want the film to fail. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I want every film to be good. It wasn’t a good sign that the film went through a dozen rewrites and it seemed like there were way too many cooks in the kitchen. There was also a reported celebrity screening that apparently went very well for the film. Though I was thrown off by this because the words “celebrity screening” seemed to mean that JJ Abrams just showed it to his friends. Of course his friends would like it. The movies has come out and I saw it opening night. The lack of imagination in this film has come very close to breaking me.

A lot happens in this story but I’m just going to simplify right now. The story follows Rey, Finn, and Poe’s journey trying to find the Sith planet so they can defeat Palpatine. A lot happens in the story but really that’s what the story comes down to.

I should start off by what this movie does good. I can’t deny that it is very well put together. JJ Abrams knows how to direct a movie and I can’t deny him that. Also the acting is good. All the personalities stand out just fine. Rey is still one dimensional but Daisy Ridley does the best she can with what’s given to her. I do think that Adam Driver has been the biggest stand out in this trilogy despite how they mishandled his character and that’s still true here. Also there is some very cool visuals in the film. Unfortunately, that’s all I can really say about the positives.

Now for the negatives. Just so you know, this is when all the spoilers are going to be coming in. Let’s be honest, no review is going to change anyone’s mind on rather or not you’ll be seeing this movie. It’s Star Wars, if you’ve been following the series you are going to see it. This is why I’m going to be talking like you have already seen the movie. Also the lack of any innovation in this film makes it lack any surprises.

Firstly, I could not stand the story structure of this film. It lacks any build up or reveals. The reveal for Emperor Palpatine is just in the opening scroll. When I read in the opening, “Oh by the way, Palpatine is back,” I just knew that someone was just making this up as they went along. It didn’t help that the explanation for why he was back was just in a couple of throw away lines that mentioned cloning and robots. Someone might as well should have looked at the camera and said, “I don’t know why he’s back, we don’t have time to explain that. I just liked him in the old movies and he’s back now.” I know Abrams claimed for Palpatine to be the plan all along, but after seeing this movie, I don’t believe it. He is thrown right into the movie without any real backstory. I just don’t buy it. The beginning of this movie also moves from scene to scene very quickly and it makes it seem like the film has no real starting point. And because of this, the movie is unable to develop any of its characters. Yes, Kylo Ren becomes good and it feels like it’s a big 180 in the film. Most of the arcs in the film also feel very superficial and then many other characters don’t really have any at all. It feels like neither Finn or Poe change at all in this film.

Real quick I want to talk about something that really bothered me in this film. It isn’t that big of a deal but it really got to me. Why do all the character’s hate C-3PO in this movie? I get that he has always been annoying to many of the characters in the franchise, but not until this movie I never got the sense that he was hated by anybody. They will ignore him and try to leave him behind. I know that there is a plot point where his programming doesn’t allow him to translate some phrased in Sith for them, but they treat him like garbage even before that. It’s something that annoyed me.

Another thing that annoyed were the Knights of Ren. They are the masters of looking menacing for a shot and then having others do the work. Until their final appearance they will show up and then have nothing to do with the upcoming conflict. It just feels like they tried to introduce this idea for the lore of the universe but it feels neither threatening or meaningful. They do feel thrown in there for potentially just getting a cool toy to sell out of it.

Yes, Rey is revealed to be Palpatine’s granddaughter. This really threw me off because I have no idea when he would’ve had kids in the series timeline. Was it before he became what looks like a zombie? During the original trilogy? When? How? How does a man that looks like he’s been eighty years old for ninety years not have erectile dysfunction? Also this subplot further illustrated the life lesson on you can do anything, if you’re born that way and the heir to one of the most powerful beings in the universe. I’ve actually gone back to watch Force Awakens and it feels like Rey’s parents weren’t really supposed to matter. Sure, it’s mentioned and it’s a reason that Rey wants to go back home. But it feels like it’s a reason for Rey to be complacent and not grow. Her attachments to her past actually comes across like a character flaw. I argue who her parents are wasn’t originally supposed to matter. But this was a detail that people just latched onto. This then seemed to confuse Rain Johnson who decided to make that fact that it shouldn’t really matter a plot point in The Last Jedi. It made it feel like that that anybody could be like Rey and that linage didn’t matter. This change in direction made it feel like that movie just wanted to have more parallels with the original trilogy. The movie does tell us Rey’s parents were still good people that did everything they could to protect her in some poorly put together dialogue and montage footage, which makes it extremely frustrating when Rey decides to take the Skywalker name at the end of the film. We are told her parents are good and did everything to protect her. Wouldn’t she want to take that name back to do justice for her parent? I guess not. She really just takes the name from a family she wasn’t a part of without putting much thought into it. This seemed very disrespectful to both families.

I did mention that Rey’s family felt like it was included just so the film could have parallels to the original trilogy. It feels like the entire movie tries to line up with both Empire Strike Back and Return of the Jedi. The third act of the movie is really just a remixed version of the window scene from Return of the Jedi. Both involve Palpatine telling the hero to strike him down to continue the cycle of the dark side while they watch as their side lose the battle. It makes the movie lack any sort of imagination.

I want to spend a bit of time talking about the lack of imagination in this film, because it’s that and to a certain extent the fan base too is what really pierced me when it came to this film. If I look at this film objectively, it could be far worse than it actually is. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, just extremely mediocre. People are liking the film and while I don’t think they will suddenly start hating it, I do think they will start to forget about it due to the lack of substance. This movie has affected me so much because I feel like it’s affected my creative spirit. I’m here writing these articles when I can but I am actually going to school to study film. My dream is to write and direct my own films one day. Film is an environment where both the single creative mind is important, but also the collaborative creative environment is important. It’s an area that speaks to me and I want to work in it. There have been many movies that have inspired this year. Parasite, Knives Out, Us, Uncut Gems, and Doctor Sleep have all spoken to me deeply in 2019. Even some flawed films have inspired me, It Chapter Two is the main one that comes to mind. These are movies that have made me think of the craft and what I would want to bring to the table. It’s so disappointing to end this year with a film that tells me that I shouldn’t bring anything new to the table. Rise of Skywalker feels like a new movie only by technicality, everything else about it feels old. But the movie still got a huge backing and not only are the fans currently loving it, many are saying that you are wrong not to like it. When I talked to some people about the film and I told them I didn’t like this new one I was told that I wasn’t a true fan. When I then mentioned about the movie feeling way too familiar and relying on fan service rather than creating its own story I was then told that I was liking the movies wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be talking about these movies with my classmates and I’m definitely creating too much of this, but those comments really hit me. I’m honestly shocked that anybody wants to work in Star Wars anymore because of how the fans react to certain things. I highly doubt that anyone has really been following my name when it comes to my reviews, but I have tried to be fair about movies that I didn’t like. I wrote negatively about both Joker and The Irishman but I’ve tried to end my reviews by still recommending them. I’ve been trying to explain how I’ve felt but also wanted to discuss whether or not people would like these films. But after seeing how some of the fans responded I briefly second guessed this method. If people won’t show me respect when it comes to my taste in movies, why should I do the same for them? Again, I have definitely made this entire movie mean something more to me then it should, but I can’t change the impact it had on me. Luckily, I have remembered that this year has given me some new favorites and I have been able to move on. I’ll also still recommend this movie to die hard fans of the original trilogy. Despite it making me second guess my philosophy, I realized that I did this because I like to think of films with great depth. But this movie will always serve as a harsh reminder of how you can succeed without innovation and how I can potentially fail because somebody else is willing to do what’s safe.

Aaron Vaughn

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