(Update: More here.)
I watched TFA (and only TFA) on Friday night in preparation for watching TLJ on Saturday, just to re-familiarise myself with the characters, where the story was at, etc. It was fun! I wrote in my Rogue One review that I just loved the X-Wings and felt like cheering when they arrived. I felt the same re-watching TFA. I was getting pretty psyched for TLJ and hopefully now this paragraph is long enough so that the preview text on the Facebook link won't show any spoilers.
TLJ was good! Bullet points almost in order from worst to best:
- Leia surviving and Force-flying back onto the ship is the dumbest thing in the entire canon, worse even than R2-D2 flying in AOTC. It's especially irritating because of Carrie Fisher dying -- I thought it was a bit of a real-life crossover moment, an opportunity for fans to say goodbye to her on the big screen, and then... it wasn't.
- Have we seen these lumbering B-17-type bombers before? They looked ridiculous. Didn't Y-Wings launch proton torpedoes? This bit just felt like they needed to shoehorn an extra aspect of WWII fighting into Star Wars.
- The galaxy-scale plot is weak, much worse than the prequels. It was very weird how in TFA there existed a New Republic but JJ so desperately wanted to remake Episode IV that he put some familiar faces way inside First Order territory so they could make a movie with plucky-band-of-rebels vibes.
OK, whatever. At the end of TFA, the Hosnian system is destroyed and that's a huge blow to the Republic. The Starkiller base is destroyed, which must surely be a big blow to the First Order – there was time to evacuate a few people before it turned into a new re-born sun, but there was not a lot of time there.
TLJ begins, seemingly pretty much straight afterwards, and it's almost over? The First Order rules almost everywhere? There's a missing movie with set-piece battles between two great powers.
- I missed it on first viewing (I read it in Internet comments afterwards and saw it the second time), but that kid at the end used the Force to pick up the broom that was a few inches from his hand. Look, it was bad enough that Rey intuited a whole lot of Force-wielding power with no training beyond getting her mind read by Kylo, but it's been a couple of years and I can grudgingly accept that that's the sort of thing the most powerful Jedi-ish person in the Galaxy can do. And now some kid is doing the same? In the olden days they needed midi-chlorian scanning to find these people.
- Speaking of which, there was a golden opportunity for some more exposition on midi-chlorians, and they squibbed it.
- The thing I like about Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side is that his self-motivation isn't explicitly evil, but instead it's a simple lust for power, with the idea that he'd be more than competent at ruling the galaxy. There's more of this in TFA, where Hux has seemingly completely internalised liking order. It's not well-acted or subtle or anything, but there's some sense in which you think that the characters believe that what they're trying to achieve is good.
Snoke in TLJ cuts against this, and explicitly contrasts "hope" with what side he's on. I don't like this, and would be much happier with more ambiguous power narratives.
- Levitating in the lotus position, come on.
- Affluent people looking dressed up at the casino like affluent people on IRL casinos is unrealistic IMO.
- The potential love triangle in Rey-Finn-Rose isn't what I watch Star Wars for, but I guess there was Han-Leia-Luke in the OT, so I can't really complain.
- The Maz bit was weird (one completely unsourced Reddit comment says/speculates that there was a contractual obligation). She said that she was in the middle of a "union dispute", yeah? Hopefully we get an anthology film about organised labour in the Galaxy.
- What's the deal with Phasma? Got a lot of hype pre-TFA and not a lot of action in TFA, then not much more in TLJ. Was it just a mistake to give a shiny helmet to someone who's not that important?
- The space battles aren't that great? I guess the point is that it's mostly a one-way slaughter, but still my most enduring memory of TFA is X-Wings v TIE fighters on a forest backdrop, and in that place TLJ gives us a bunch of ships being blown up.
- The detour from galactic space battles to small-scale animal rights activism was a little weird but OK.
- BB-8 got to exercise quite a lot of creativity in this film. Usually droids are intelligent within quite tightly-defined tasks – fixing electronics, carrying messages, etc. – but BB-8 tied up a few guards, helped steal a ship, and shot up a bunch of stormtroopers to save Finn and Rose. (Perhaps the closest precedent is the R2-D2 flying scene?)
I'm not necessarily opposed to such abilities, but it's a bit odd for it not to be more common amongst the droids. Since many* droids are sentient, I accept the argument that a complete memory wipe of a droid is a moral harm comparable to murder. The argument that treatment of droids in general constitutes a great moral crime is also defensible. BB-8's existence as something closer to an independent being is more grist to such debates.
*All? I don't know about the droids in the droid army. I feel like they were more machine than sentient, but I haven't watched the prequels in a while.
- I guess Snoke's backstory is relegated to a book. It's a bit weird for some hyper-powerful character to just appear seemingly from nowhere post-Palpatine.
- The first time I watched it, I thought there were way too many gags. The second time I thought it wasn't so bad, and maybe only one or two need cutting. It's pretty funny.
- I said in my Rogue One review that I enjoyed the blurring of the lines between good and bad, and wished they'd hit that theme a little harder, since we weren't going to get it in the episodic films, where the two sides of the Force basically impose a simple good versus evil story. In TLJ, as Poe launched his mutiny against Holdo, I was reminded of something Taylor Swift once said: "The most terrible letdown as a listener for me is when I’m listening to a song and I see what they were trying to do."
On my first viewing I was literally sitting there picking apart the themes instead of enjoying the plot. And when it all went wrong for Poe, I was annoyed at what they'd done to him – I enjoyed Poe as a perfect, do-no-wrong good guy, and instead he was now just some over-confident hot-head.
On second viewing I was more forgiving of the writers. Poe's arc is what it is.
- Still, Holdo could have saved a bit of trouble by telling everyone what she was planning instead of making a point about authority and command. Not that Holdo knew that the new Lando character was overhearing Poe via Finn and Rose.
- Also, better late than never, but once alone on the cruiser she should have gone for the kamikaze hyperdrive trick immediately rather than only thinking of it after three quarters of the transporters had been destroyed.
- Is it OK for Luke to be able to project himself, life-like, to elsewhere? I don't mind it too much. It's clearly very hard and the effort was too much for Luke to survive afterwards, so there are good reasons why no-one did it before.
- Haha, porgs.
- What TLJ lacks in great space battles, it makes up for in close-ups of faces that fill the gigantic big screen.
- Rose, good character.
- They killed off Snoke! Wow, I did not see that coming this year. It's a good development. Kylo's a compelling character, and it makes more narrative sense to put him in charge, rather than following the OT and having the chief bad guy be the number two.
- Haha, good old Yoda. One pair of dots that I didn't connect on first viewing (and only realised reading comments afterwards) was that he told Luke that there was nothing in the temple (i.e. books) that Rey didn't already have, and later in the film we see that Rey has taken the books herself (I did notice this!), so Yoda was being more literal than I realised.
- Telepathic communication happened a little in Empire as I recall (with untrained Leia!), and it's good to see more of this.
- If you've only watched the film once, I definitely recommend a second viewing just to watch Luke's projection and enjoy the little hints that he's not real. The most obvious is that his lightsaber never hits Kylo's; instead Luke just evades. Also his beard isn't grey, and (my favourite) there's this very quick close-up of his foot not disturbing the salt to reveal the red dirt underneath.
- I really hope the reveal about Rey's parents is true, and not just because I said in my TFA review that I hadn't picked up any "Rey is a Skywalker/Kenobi" vibes on my first viewing. Inherited traits down a family tree is a fine theme, but new characters are also fine and more consistent with the Jedi history, where Force-sensitive children were spread across the Galaxy.
- Rey's so great.
- I love what they did to Luke's character. The flashbacks to when he drew his lightsaber and almost killed Ben, whoaaaaa, hell yeah.
- The sequence from when Rey goes down to the cave to when she confronts Luke about trying to murder Ben, wowwwwwww, that was gripping in a way I can't recall feeling at a Star Wars film before. On first viewing, I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for a good 45 minutes around that time and following, and even on the second viewing there were still those 10 or 15 amazing minutes. After the first viewing I felt that the experience of watching it was the best of any Star Wars film (and that it would fall below Empire on post-watch reflection). I don't know if that still holds on second viewing (I'd have to re-watch Empire again to compare), but TLJ is right up there in its in-the-moment entertainment.
I don't know where TLJ will settle in my rankings over time. For the moment: 5 > RO > 4 > 8 > 6 > 7 > 3 > 1 > 2. A fan-edit that bypasses the Leia scene would be at least one rank higher.