Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2019. Lucasfilm, Bad Robot, Walt Disney Pictures. Story by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, Screenplay by Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams, based on characters created by George Lucas. Cinematography by Dan Mindel. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan. Music by John Williams. Production Design by Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins. Costume Design by Michael Kaplan. Film Editing by Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube. Academy Awards 2019. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019.
The First Order is well on its way to ruling the galaxy and honestly, would that be so bad? Everyone in this universe Good Force or Dark Side has guns and swords, but the First Order has very shiny floors and never gets into a panic about anything. The Rebel Alliance is continuing to strengthen in order to fight them, headed by the wisdom and experience of General Leia (Carrie Fisher, who passed away in 2016, is inserted via unused footage from the earlier films that has been very effectively rotoscoped). Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still training under Leia but needs to go on a business trip when she learns from some of Luke’s old texts that a Sith device known as a “wayfinder” is located on a distant planet, and that will help lead them to the evil emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid); that old crone, meanwhile, is telling Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that he needs to kill Rey and get rid of the Jedi for good, but Kylo is starting to have mixed feelings about his place in the Dark Side. A better narrative balance than the overly indulgent Last Jedi helps return this conclusion to the latest (but likely not last) Star Wars trilogy to its more modest origins, putting a capper on many of the characters we have come to love over the last forty-two years with no shortage of nostalgic charm. For a movie that is providing the big finish (again, probably not) for so grand and successful a franchise, it doesn’t feel all that momentous, as J.J. Abrams’ plotting works out logically but not spontaneously and knocks a series of Star Wars traditions off a list in a paint-by-numbers fashion: we collect information or people on various planets to accommodate all that cool space travel, there’s a vaguely evil villain who is always trying to get in their way, there’s plenty of Force woo, but there’s no romance, either between characters or between the screen and the audience. The series that began with George Lucas creating a personal dynamic so strong that it flirted with incest has become something so coldly commodified that it’s amazing all the performances aren’t rotoscoped from footage from other movies. The technical qualities are still at a high point, there’s no end to the beauty of the production design or quality of effects, but it boils down yet again to the same old hand-to-hand combat in the climax, while the moral conundrum of the villain and the secrets revealed about our delightful heroine just feel like they’ve been downloaded and slightly altered from earlier chapters in the saga. Moving too far beyond audience desires worked against the series in Rian Johnson’s last film, but they didn’t need to play it so safe this time either, this film is no disaster but it’s never particularly exciting or essential.