This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
I already presented by overview comments in my non-spoiler review earlier. So in this review, I’m just going to bullet point the things I didn’t and did like.
Things that bothered me
The primary pacing issue in the first half of the movie comes from the fact that the chase between the First Order and the Rebels is supposed to be happening over the course of HOURS, while the scenes between Rey and Luke are occurring over the course of DAYS. We know from the end of TFA that Rey went to the island to find Luke, so we can assume that these timelines are not actually concurrent, but instead we are actually seeing past events (Rey and Luke) then cutting to the present (the chase scene.)
The problem, however, is that this is so poorly done that the viewer is never really sure where we are in the timeline. One moment, we are being led to believe the Rebel fleet is going to be destroyed any minute. The next, Luke is telling Rey he’ll talk to her in the morning. The juxtaposition is jarring and makes it difficult to appreciate the sense of urgency in the chase.
And this is compounded when Finn and Rose head off to find the codebreaker, because they are obviously traveling across the galaxy in a small transport that does not appear to be fixed with a hyperdrive. They just happened to be close enough to where the codebreaker should be to hop in a transport and fly over? Speaking of which…
The Codebreaker Angle
This entire angle made no sense. What, exactly, was the plan? Find this person who has no ties to the rebels and ask him real nicely to risk his life by defying the First Order? If the codebreaker had turned out to be Lando, I would have applauded the angle (even if it ultimately failed). It would have made sense within the lore, because Lando is probably the one scoundrel in the galaxy who WOULD make that decision. Lando would drop everything to save Leia, even if it was a hairbrained scheme destined to fail. But as it was presented, this random, nameless person was pointless.
And while we are on the subject of things that are pointless…
I get it. They are cute. But, so what? What was their actual purpose in the film other than an excuse to make a toy to market? Seriously? They legitimately served no purpose. NONE. Ewoks served a plot purpose in the originals, whether you liked them or not. BB-8 serves a plot purpose (and is not just cute but awesome, but we’ll get to that). But these things MADE NO SENSE IN THE FILM?
The entire idea that Chewbacca would even CARE about these things and would let them on the Millennium Falcon was absurd. Their presence kicked the wind out of a couple of otherwise stellar, intense moments where they were used for “comic relief” at points where comic relief was simply uncalled for and counter-productive to the immersion in the moment.
Slapped down the Shippers with forced romance angles
“Finn, naked, leaking?” When Poe translates BB-8’s comments for the audience, I really thought they were going to follow through on the romance angle with Finn and Poe. And despite the homophobic trolls who would have howled over it, I think it would have been great. There was obvious chemistry between the actors in TFA, and in 2017, it should not be all of that big of a deal to show a same-sex romance angle any more than showing an interracial romance angle (though I realize there is still that portion of the universe that considered interracial romance an abomination as well).
But, no, they chicken out. Instead of allowing that angle to develop, they instead saddle Finn with Rose, who makes he “kinda dying but not really” declaration of love to him near the end of the film. And then we see Poe introduce himself to Rey in a manner to signify romantic interest. It felt forced to appease the homophobes. In all seriousness, if they didn’t want to play out the romance angle, they could have just left it open for the shippers to resolve in fan fiction. Why completely slap it down with horrible, forced relationship arcs?
Things I liked
Leia uses the Force
Anyone who read the books knows Leia is force-sensitive. But as the previous books are no longer considered canon, the question of Leia’s connection to the Force was left unanswered. We saw a glimmer of it in TFA, when she feels Han’s death. But we actually see her use the Force to save herself after the bridge is destroyed.
A lot of people didn’t like the scene and have jokingly called her Leia Poppins. But within the full scope of the Star Wars lore, the scene makes perfect sense. Folks tend to get lost in all of the flashy uses of the Force: force lightning, move object, etc. But the Force has a host of less flashy but equally powerful abilities, such as Breath Control. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan use the ability when the Trade Federation attempted to poison them. We see the ability used throughout the old and new canon in various ways. It is fairly clear a version of this ability is what Leia uses, perhaps subconsciously, to save herself. Then it is just a small matter to use Move Object to move herself.
For a trained Force user, this would have been simple, but Leia is using the ability untrained, which is why she passed out immediately after. But it was a perfectly valid scene within the context of the entire canon and I am glad we finally got confirmation of Leia’s force powers.
Snoke gets punked
Again, I realize a lot of people were mad about how Snoke was killed. But I thought it was a fabulous nod to the movie’s theme of hubris (which I discussed in my non-spoiler review). Luke hinted at it, and for anyone that paid attention, particularly throughout Episodes One through Three, the Jedi’s reliance of the Force, instead of their own skills or even common sense, was always their downfall. That hubris applies to Sith as well. Force users throughout the entire lore have always been their own worst enemies, because they are so sure of their connection to the Force that they become blind to the obvious.
In his hubris, Snoke was so sure that he could read Kylo’s mind that it never occurred to him that the “enemy” Kylo was focused on was him. It was actually the death Snoke deserved…all of his self-assurance and smug belief in his superiority in the Force reduced to nothing. Snoke did not deserve a glorious death. He got exactly what he deserved.
That fight scene with the Imperial Guards…and aftermath
In the true spirit of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Rey and Kylo beat back the Imperial Guards in an awesome scene. The subsequent scene, where each feels the other must agree with them since they just fought together, also drove home the true divide between these two conflicted characters. Rey, who never felt she belonged anywhere, clings desperately to the idea of the rebellion because it gives her something to belong to. Kylo, convinced the only way to move forward is to destroy the past, can’t just allow the rebels to live. Their conflict is not a classic light-side versus dark-side, but a more nuanced conflict of emotional needs.
Luke’s Force Projection
Again, those of us who have read the “old canon” books already knew how powerful Luke was in the Force, but with the old books no longer canon, we’re only left with the movies. And while Luke’s strength in the Force is always discussed, we never see a lot of it in action. This Force Projection, from across the galaxy and so strong it could physically interact with people and things, was an exceptional display and fitting for the more nuanced, less-flashy way Jedi traditionally used the Force.
The expenditure of power, however, cost Luke his life. But, as he says himself, “No one’s ever really gone.” Luke didn’t just die. He became one with the Force, which means that, just like Yoda and other masters before him, there is a high probability he will still be around as a Force Spirit to offer advice and aid when needed.