A couple of weeks ago I had modest expectations for TROS. The title seemed bad, focusing on the Skywalker name instead of opening up the galactic story to new characters. And while I'd put in some decent effort to avoid any spoilers, I'd nevertheless seen tweets saying that Palpatine's voice was in the trailer, so I was expecting to be disappointed by whatever role he had. But while I didn't expect it to rise (pun) to the commanding heights of TLJ, I figured it'd be an entertaining couple of hours.
The snippets of early reviews I'd accidentally seen suggested sharply polarised reactions, and I went into the cinema with very low expectations.
Well, the big plot points were way, way worse than I'd guessed, but it was entertaining. There was action and lightsabers and it drew me in. I genuinely enjoyed most of it on a second viewing, with the disappointment of the plot behind me. From worst to best:
- Palpatine being in this film at all. Just... so disappointing. Move on! Kylo was Supreme Leader by the end of TLJ, and instead of the most compelling character being the lead bad guy, they shunted him to a supporting role, in favour of a character who died decades ago, hoping to give cheap nostalgia hits to both Original and Prequel Trilogy fans. And wow, were those Prequel nostalgia hits cheap.
- Characters coming back from the dead really lowers the stakes. How can the ending be at all satisfying if Palpatine can resurrect himself?
- Rey being a Palpatine, sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. I liked Rian Johnson's vision of Rey coming from nowhere and no-one in particular, and instead JJ made the galactic story smaller.
- Palpatine growing Snoke in a test tube, oh dear.
- The "from a certain point of view" retcon stuff from the OT shouldn't be something to aspire to and mimic, but here we are. In the TLJ scene where Rey says "They were nobody" and Kylo fills in the details about being sold for drinking money, I muuuuuuuuuuch prefer it if Rey had reached the essential truth of the matter and Kylo was being honest. Now instead Kylo was being deceptive.
And Luke and Leia both knew as well! (How?) When did Luke learn about Rey's grand-parentage? Seems like he too was being deceptive in TLJ.
- There were too many ships.
Please eliminate three.Palpatine's fleet was too big, and the number of rebels who turned up at the end was ridiculous. Just seemed unrealistic.
- And every one of those star destroyers was Death-Star-level powerful? TFA had "a Death Star, but bigger", and TROS has "like a Death Star, but smaller and there are thousands of them". JJ just trying to raise the stakes by making things bigger and bigger, it's boring.
- Relatedly, I thought Palpatine sent out too much lightning at the end.
- I didn't like the cavernous deep echo effect or whatever it was that they put on Palpatine's voice all the time. When in person, I think it should have been a normal voice, like he sounded in all the other movies.
- The crowds of ghouls were weird, creepiness for creepiness' sake.
- Colour-wise, the film was really drab and dark compared to the previous two.
- Not enough Rose. I don't know how much credence to give to the conspiracy theory that Disney actively and totally capitulated to the vicious side of the fan reaction to TLJ*, but the evidence of the film is certainly consistent with that theory.
*I mean, maybe JJ wanted Rey to be a Palpatine all along, and he just didn't have control over the middle film in the sequence. I can't really reject this non-conspiracy theory.
- When the DVD comes out, I'm going to have to go frame-by-frame to see if, in the ~0.15-second shot of it, there really was a second First Order transport on Pasaana, and Chewie was in that one and not the one that Rey blew up. Even at best, it was viewer-hostile filmmaking to have Chewie survive. On first viewing, I thought it was a massive moment, but no.
- Kylo putting a mask back on was disappointing.
- The Knights of Ren: also disappointing, but at least after two films with no sight of them, I had no particular interest in them anyway.
- Jenny Nicholson on Keri Russell: "How did she know it was gonna be a Flip Visor Up day. Between running into Poe and going to the roof did she excuse herself to apply eyeliner in anticipation of that moment"
- It's not really clear to me what the situation is at the end of the film. The First Order started out as the dominant military force; thanks to the battles shown, they did not become 10,000 times more powerful, but they didn't obviously go along way backwards (except possibly in terms of public opinion etc.; see below).
- Poe's rousing pre-battle speech is not exactly Bill Pullman in Independence day.
- Lando and Luke go hunting for clues, do their best but reach a seemingly dead end. Luke leaves; Lando decides that that planet is a good place to spend retirement and stays there?
- I couldn't work out the setting for some of it. The big battle was on Exegol; why were Ewoks on Endor celebrating a star destroyer crashing(?)?
- Hahahahaha, Chewie got his medal.
- I wish we'd seen a bit more wide-angle shots of the Festival of the Ancestors dancing. Not two minutes' worth, just 10 or 15 seconds, colourful and choreographed.
- I didn't notice on my first viewing how little Kylo/Ben got to say in the last... 45 minutes? hour? (One word: "Ow.") Well done to Adam Driver for not making me notice, but not well done to the writers, who I think could have done more with him.
- They missed a golden opportunity in the final scene to throw everyone into a spin, I really wish she'd seen the Luke and Leia Force ghosts and then confidently said "Rey Palpatine".
- Harrison Ford!
- Having Lando in the film is gratuitous fan service, but/and it's fine.
- On first viewing, I found the relentless action of the first half an hour bewildering. On second viewing it was fine, and I enjoyed it from the get-go. There wasn't much Palpatine in the first half of the film to annoy me.
- I laughed out loud at "I'm the spy". I'm not sure I was supposed to, and no-one else joined in, but I thought it was funny.
- The Leia scenes were done well; I've read some reviews saying that it was obvious that her lines were generic etc. but if I didn't know that Fisher had died before filming started, I wouldn't have been able to guess it.
- Leia (complete with a ROTJ-era face) doing Jedi training is a nice little addition to the backstory, albeit not one that excuses a corpse re-animating and flying through space while transparent.
- Bit of Force sensitivity for Finn, OK.
- Space horse cavalry on a space ship, funny and entertaining.
- A big question at the end of TLJ was how a Rebellion could defeat the First Order after the former had been reduced to a handful of people on one ship. The idea of there being a huge number of potential rebels, just needing the common knowledge that there are many others out there, is an interesting and satisfying way to achieve this.
- Poe was telling a dead Leia that he didn't know what to do, how to lead, and Lando entered and said that none of them did – that was a cool little inspirational speech, more than justifying Lando's presence in the film. It might even be my favourite single moment, small though it was.
- C-3PO. When it's been a while since I've watched a Star Wars film, I'm never really sure if C-3PO is as annoying as I remember him, but my impression is that he is usually a pretty annoying sort of comedy, and K-2SO was waaaaay better. But in TROS, C-3PO is funny and not annoying! "Babu Frik! He's one of my oldest friends."
Also, the notion of a memory wipe was treated with seriousness and the droid gave its consent to the procedure.
- Star Wars as a whole has struggled with describing how a good Jedi can end up on the dark side, the Prequels being extremely unconvincing in their portrayal of Anakin's fall. Rey accidentally incinerating a ship with Force lightning showed a much better way – try too hard in slightly the wrong way, and you tip over into accessing all the dark side power, which could become a drug.
I wish they'd made Rey go further along that path, but the lightning scene was really good.
- The Rey and Kylo interaction was great in TLJ and is the strongest non-action part of TROS.
(I'd thought that Reylo discourse would flood the Internet and pierce my anti-spoiler defences if anything Reylo-ish happened, but I had to specifically Google to find takes on the subject. Ben dying immediately seemed to leave both sides unhappy.)
- Lots of lightsabers and lasers, pew pew pew.
I don't know where that leaves us. I've found negative reviews much more satisfying to read than positive reviews; most of the good in the film is very superficial, and it's more cathartic to read people saying what an atrocious story it is than to read people saying that it was a fun ride anyway.
For in-the-moment entertainment: 8 > RO > 5 > 4 > 7 > 6 > 9 > 3 > 1 > S > 2.
Overall: 5 > RO > 8 > 4 > 6 > 7 > 9 > 3 > 1 > S > 2.
I still hope we'll get a Rian Johnson trilogy. In the meantime, reviews of the Mandalorian seem very good, so maybe I'll sign up for a free week of Disney Plus over the holidays and binge season one.