If you don’t want the movie spoiled, my spoiler-free review is here. Be ready for nerd raging ahead, this will not be gentle.
So the movie begins with the good guys (GG) trying to leave a planet when the bad guys (BG) arrive. Already we have our first red flag of the plot when the BGs, rather than bringing the force of their fleet onto the GG, have the star destroyers hang back and let the “dreadnought” fight. The Star Destroyers, once might representations of the BGs’ might which opened the entire franchise, are reduced to ornaments in this film, decorating the scene without accomplishing anything.
So the dreadnought arrives and takes aim with its mega cannons. But then Po arrives! His fighter quickly takes out all the gun turrets decorating the… top… side of the dreadnought. Even though the ultra-mega-cannons are on the underside of the dreadnought. Already you have to start wondering why. Why not have Po attack below and see if he can damage – even a little – the ultra-mega-cannons?
Apparently all the effort was to clear the way for the GGs’ “bombers.” These bombers are designed in the shape of an ‘i’ with a pilot on top, a gunner on the bottom, and the long body containing the bombs. So the bombers SSSSSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLYYYYYYYY start to fly over the dreadnought because the entire GG leadership have never heard of basic math and a little principle we call “angles.” Heck they apparently don’t even bother to aim at the underside of the ship so in case anything goes wrong with the bombs, some might still damage the ultra-mega-cannons rather than having to destroy the entire thing. At this point we begin to realize that we’re not dealing with anything even close to actual-Space but narrative-Space. Screw physics, it’s all about what the writer wants.
But faulty math isn’t the only problem here as apparently these ships were designed by a suicidal engineer. The procedure for them to work is to arm the bombs before deployment, and then hit a big red button on a hand held remote. Which is just asking for problems when say… a bit of debris hits the ship and sets off the bombs – WHICH IT DOES! I mean, why not design the bombs to be armed when they hit vacuum? Or even a simple switch that is flipped by the motion of them leaving the bay? And why doesn’t the ship have any redundancies or manual releases for the bombs just in case of near total crew loss?
After the dreadnought is blown up and the GGs escape (because the BGs didn’t bother to use any of their Star Destroyers to harasses the GG fleet or defend the dreadnought), Leia chews Po out for disobeying her, citing that they lost so many bombers and pilots. I was about ready to shout at the screen that she’s just as guilty sticking her people in such faulty equipment. SIDE NOTE: So I’ve seen several online praising this moment for various reasons, most often for it subverting the “hot shot pilot” trope. What a lot of people miss? Finn was right! He calls the dreadnought a “fleet killer” and the next sequence is the BGs revealing they can follow the GGs, meaning that had the dreadnought been left in one piece, it would have followed the GGs and killed them all immediately. Meaning that bit isn’t nearly as subversive as some people think.
So the GG escape off to a random zone in space, but oh no! the BG ships are right behind them. It seems Star Wars is now so out of ideas they have to steal from the Battlestar Galatica remake – except BSG did a better job with the idea in a third of the time. So a space siege is set up for the movie. This was an idea I wanted to work, unfortunately it is based on the GGs having limited fuel and trying to maintain distance from the BGs. The BGs have another ultra-mega ship that’s not quite the dreadnought show up to shoot at the GGs because we can’t have the Star Destroyers doing anything. Apparently Star Destroyers are so useless the BGs never think to have a dozen of them “warp” in front of the GGs and catch the targets in a simple pincher maneuver. Even though the movie establishes that the siege has a running clock of 18 hours. EIGHTEEN. HOURS. That’s nearly a full day for the entirety of the BG fleet to lightspeed into surrounding positions. Now before you object, let me remind you that any objections to this would only apply in actual-Space, this movie has already established that it involves narrative-Space. In fact it’s so narrative-Space, we see two of the escape ships drift backwards when they run out of fuel. Even though later on in the movie the last ship is turned into a lightspeed bullet, nobody ever thinks to convert the previous two ships – which were going to be destroyed ANYWAY – into lightspeed bullets themselves to hit the enemy with. In two of these instances, we see the ships are piloted by a sole occupant after being evacuated. A sole, LIVING pilot. Even though there are droids all over the place and we’re repeatedly told how important everybody is to the cause of the GGs, these great leaders and figures of hope all throw themselves to death rather than turn over piloting of the ship to C-3PO. (not that I want Threepio to die, but he could at least be backed up and put in a new body)
So during the 18 hour siege, most of the movie proper happens. At one point fighters, led by Kylo Ren attack the mothership which holds (punnily enough) his mother. He doesn’t go through with the attack but his wingmen do, launching missiles that destroy most of the bridge and suck everyone not blown up into space. Leia hangs out in the vacuum way past what a human can bear then uses the Force to Mary Poppins her way back onto the ship. Because what this franchise needed was adding YET MORE powers to the Jedi until now it’s a huge plot hole how Order 66 ever killed anybody. Remember the Jedi in a ship back in SW3? The one that was blown up? Well now we know he could have survived that. What possible threat can either side provide to Rey or Kylo now?
She at least has to take a nap for awhile after that (even space ensure can only do so much) which means purple-haired lady takes over. For a minute there I was hopeful we might actually have a new, named alien with a major speaking role – a Zeltron perhaps – but no, she’s just a regular human. Who somehow found hair dye among this band of ragtag rebels who are constantly on the run and stretched thin on resources. Or maybe that’s a clue as to why the budget for improved bomber design was mysteriously missing funds. Anyway, she’s put in charge and sees fit to hold an orientation meeting. During a siege. Where the enemy is constantly bombarding their vessel. So is this meeting to lay out their plan and get everyone on board with it? Noooooope. It’s just an introduction. When the people serving on the ship – the last of the resistance – ask about the plan, they’re told to F’ off. Why? Who knows! It’s not like the ships are constantly under siege and have hundreds dead from prior attacks, probably requiring all hands to assist preparation. Nor is there a suggestion that multiple redundancies should probably be established just in case more leaders die the plan can continue. No we just need some people to go sit in the corner. I suppose the purple-lady is concerned about spies – even though her silence causes some of her subordinates to try their own plan anyway, which unintentionally exposes her plan to a spy.
The plan itself? Shovel everybody onto a smaller group of ships and send them to a planet while the larger ship acts as bait to draw away the enemy. After 18 hours. They send the ships all out at once. They don’t bother to spread out the launch over those 18 hours. They don’t even try scattering the ships to different points in the galaxy – even after the movie establishes that the BGs are tracking only one of the 3 big ships. They don’t even think about leaving a droid on board to fly it to one end of the galaxy while the other two – loaded with the Resistance, jump to two opposite points – I guess that would be cheating in this war.
So what’s the crazy plan? Finn and his new sidekick Rose go find the Keymaker so they can unlock the way to the heart of the Matrix– I mean they go to a casino place to find a codebreaker to unlock the way to the heart of the super star destroyer. Meanwhile the 18 hr siege goes on. So the two of them have a long digression on the planet about class and stuff. Apparently most of the rich folk there sell weapons. So the two go on to look for the codebreaker instead of trying to just buy a big-ass gun of their own or even more fuel for the ships. The sequence is at least visually interesting and creative even if it’s entirely pointless. Because after all their efforts, even when they sneak on board the big ship and put in all this work, turns out the codebreaker they found (who is STILL not an alien, just another human) is a spy (or something) for the empire. They are saved later by BB8 who apparently teleported into an AT-ST. Meaning droids are good enough to pilot giant walking machines of death but not starships which are going to be blown up.
Meanwhile Rey is on a planet with Luke, apparently having never moved at all between the movies making the timeline a confusing mess for the audience. He refuses to train her and we spend time following Luke going about his day for no reason (though I will note: yes the clip about the milk udders is in this film, and I have less problem with it in theory because Luke was established as a farm boy – I just have a problem with it as a complete waste of time serving no purpose). During all this Rey also begins Forcetiming with Kylo Ren because Adam Driver wanted to show off his beach body (which is impressive, good for you man). Again, what could be interesting with this idea of Rey tempting Kylo to the Light is drained of any novelty by a lack of editing. So during a Jedi’s training, there is a “test of spirit” the jedi must go through. This was the vision in the cave Luke had in Empire Strikes Back. Here’s my favorite version of Anakin’s vision:
Rey’s? She stands in an infinite reflection of herself. That’s it. Anakin saw himself destroying what he fought for. Luke saw himself becoming the very thing he fought. Rey… just sees herself. Infinite selves. Nothing else. She doesn’t see a dark Rey conquering the galaxy or standing beside Kylo Ren. Either Rey is so pure there is no darkness in her, or so dark there is no where left for her to fall. While she gets some decent enough action sequences, by movie’s end she’s made no real advancement as a character save for accepting that her parents were nobodies and all her friends are her true family – like pretty much every. other. film. from the last decade.
During this sequence, Rey keeps “Forcetiming” with Kylo Ren in a sequence that quickly gets tiresome and overlong during which he convinces her to try and redeem him. Why? Apparently she likes him without his shirt since the last time they met he mind probed her and then attacked her with a laser sword. They have no history together, no familial connections, she just believes he should be saved and redeemed because of all those other times in the previous movie she showed no mercy towards anyone else really demonstrated how much of a cold, ruthless person she is. Well she did cry over Finn at the end of the last movie… after he was… pretty brutally sliced up… by Kylo. Hm.
Well we do get to see Snoke talking to Kylo Ren and General Hux with dialog so generic and forgettable it’s readily apparent to everyone who has seen any movie ever that he probably won’t live very long. (Still the trick used by Kylo to execute Snoke was the movie’s sole moment of clever writing so we’ll give them that.)
So eventually there is a climax on this planet. The GGs manage to get inside this large hollowed out mountain with an ultra-mega-door. The BGs then bombard the planet from orbit, collapsing the mountain and burying the GGs alive.
I’m kidding, that would be cheating still. So the BGs land large vehicles and a super-ultra-mega-cannon on the planet right at the GGs doorstep… wait, that’s apparently still cheating, so all this lands about a hundred miles out to let them SLOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWLLLLLLYYYYYY travel up to the ultra-mega-door. The good guys send some kind of skimming hovercraft out to fight back, but they accomplish literally nothing, even with the Millennium Falcon providing air support. The craft don’t even try to accomplish anything. At least on Hoth Luke & company took down a few enemy craft even if they couldn’t stop them all.
Anyway with the GGs thoroughly and completely screwed, Luke arrives! Convincing Po that they can’t be trapped, there must be a back exit to the base… even though later it’s revealed Luke was an illusion all along, meaning Po was wrong.
Luke’s illusion isn’t bad, there’s lots of nice little signs of things being off – at least until you notice that hanging from Luke’s belt is his first lightsaber. A lightsaber we all saw blow up literally five minutes earlier. Kylo fails to notice this too. Even though the cause of the lightsaber explosion was him and Rey in a Force-tug-of-war over it, meaning that object occupied his entire attention and focus for several minutes during a climatic part of his life. Not to mention that another key moment of his life was when Uncle Luke tried to kill him in the dark with a GREEN lightsaber. Literally the two most important moments of Kylo’s life – when he turned to the Dark Side and when he committed to the Dark Side (and took over as Supreme Leader) revolve around an obvious object that totally conflicts with Luke’s illusion – he doesn’t suspect a thing.
Because what the hell, why not have a script that insults all of our intelligences while we’re at it.
You know, i’m not even going to do a “how it could have been” on this film. My previous version is better and there’s nothing to salvage in this film – it would be far better to burn it all down and start over. The prequels weren’t great, there were still plenty of mistakes writing-wise in them, but there was at least a sense they TRIED. There was at least a sense stories were advancing. This film was just completely pointless. At this point I wish Rey had been revealed as the girl from the Ewok movies because then something entertaining would be related to this movie.
And I’m sure there’s still more stuff I missed.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, this movie totally failed the Burroughs test.
And to top it all off? TWICE in this film helmets are useless.