When you read a post that begins with a "let me just say that I'm a lifelong Star Wars fan…" it usually means that what comes next isn't necessarily complimentary. So I'll get that out of the way now. Let me just say I'm a lifelong Star Wars fan, I have toys in my office, t-shirts, books, you name it.
What J. J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens proved a good Star Wars movie could be made this century. I was so worried it was going to be a let down but came out of the theater grinning from ear to ear. I literally wanted to shake his hand for making a movie that tickled my Star Wars brain. When Rogue One came out I was blown away by the possibilities for movies with new characters set in the Star Wars universe. It was like a Star Wars renaissance.
In the years since The Force Awakens I had unknowingly set myself up for disappointment. I started making episode 8 in my own head. Abrams had setup a lot in TFA and I just couldn't help myself play those things out in my mind. I don't think its wrong to have done that. But where I went astray is how I went into the movie.
Expectations, they're a thing.
So, right off the bat, let me just say that I thought some of the decisions Rian Johnson made were bold and admirable. I didn't mind the throwing away of a light side and dark side of the force. Burn down the Jedi. Ok, I dig it, let's do that. Anyone can be force sensitive. Sure, I'm in. I didn't mind that angle at all. I just don't think Johnson ticks my boxes for making a Star Wars film like Abrams did. And here's where my conflict begins.
Because there were beautiful moments. Some of the individual scenes were utterly amazing. I could watch the Snoke throne room scene 100 times a day. Lovely stuff. And seeing Luke and Yoda on screen together once again, my inner 10 year old was squealing. But a rambling plot with clumsy writing made the whole thing feel disjointed to me. It's like Johnson had a glimpse of a vision of where he wanted it to go, but wasn't very successful in getting it there.
There was an awful lot going on in this movie. With a lot of characters. It's unreasonable to think that we could have enough time with all of them. And yet I did. I expected much more Luke/Rey time than we got. I expected more Snoke time. More Phasma time. Honestly why even introduce them at all if you're going to do nothing with them? In the case of Phasma, what an opportunity to have a female baddie play a big part. But no, a couple lines and she's out.
The casino sub plot interspersed with the space chase really took me out of the moment. There's so many of the Finn/Rose scenes that should have ended on the cutting room floor. Why spend time on that plot when other character arcs got so little time? The sole redeeming thing about the space chase was the lightspeed kamikaze run. But the back and forth between casino & fleet scenes just didn't sit well with me. Oh and awkwardly shot Mary Poppins flying Leia scene was a thing.
I didn't like how Johnson handled Luke either. Not the jaded cynicism, I get that. But muddled writing. He came to the island to die. But totally made a map for others to find him? And the guy who crossed the galaxy to find good in the evil Darth Vader wanted to murder Ben Solo? After Abrams' epic shot of Rey handing the lightsaber to him at the end of TFA, Johnson decides on a sitcom toss over the shoulder. But Hamill was excellent and gave Luke a decent send off. Raising the X-Wing and flying to the base to actually fight might have been more interesting than remotely using the force to death?
Friends have suggested I watch the movie again without expectations. It's telling that I almost don't want to. What Abrams now does with episode 9 will be interesting. Two bookends either side of an awkward middle perhaps?