STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI (2017) is just around the corner. But why wait to review Star Wars movies? Until its inevitable release, I’m going to review all the core films in celebration! There may not be a lot of them, but there’s a lot to say about them. Everybody’s got their own opinion of the order in which the movies should be viewed, by release (IV through VI, then I through III) or in chronological order (I through VI), but others, like myself, think there’s a better way to view them. I’m going to review the core films in the following order, subsequently how I’ll be reviewing them:
- ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
- EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977)
- EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
- EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)
- EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
- EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)
- EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
- EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)
This is going to be so much fun, yo! This is my “LAST JEDI Celebration Until Release” special!
Technically, I’ve already written about this movie in a transfer review, so if you wanted to compare and contrast my opinions of two years ago versus two years later, you can check out my spoiler free review and my spoilers review.
It just won’t die! Although, that’s more of celebratory exclamation for me. I love Star Wars way too much to want to see it die.
The original trilogy concluded back in 1983 with RETURN OF THE JEDI and the prequel trilogy ended in 2005 with REVENGE OF THE SITH. Who knew back then that in a decade, the franchise would continue with a full blown sequel to the original franchise with all the returning characters that we knew and loved?
For those who are playing catch-up with the movies, there is a little background to the reaction of this next set of trilogies. For one thing, though JEDI was the end of the original films, the stories continued on in other forms. Comics, video games, but probably more famously, the novels. Leia got trained to be Jedi, she and Han had, I think, three children, including twins, one of them went to the dark side, Luke married a woman that I think was originally out to assassinate him and they had a kid, all of whom became Jedi under his tutelage. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if there were at least a hundred books that were sequels to the films. I think most of them aren’t considered continuity. Regardless, it was widely hoped that the new set of films would tie in to those novels.
Personally, I’d never read those novels. Any of them. Having said that, I’ve read about them and I saw the potential for some seriously dark and dramatic storytelling. But I wanted something different. I wanted to see something that took place within the realm of the novels, but in pockets of time that took place before or after certain sets. I don’t know, something about direct adaptations scare me.
Turns out, to the great disappointment to many fans, the next set of films were going to completely ignore those books. When Disney acquired the Star Wars license, it was officially announced that the extended universe that fans fell deeply and passionately in love with were ALL noncanonical to the movies as we’ve seen them.
Sort of. There’s some parallels, but I’ll tackle those details later.
In any case, we were getting completely new characters, but we weren’t going to be deprived of some of the original actors, like Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. While I sure had my disappointments initially, I was relived to see that the names for the new younger actors were names that I’d never heard of. Why is that such a big deal to me? I love unknown actors. Before Hamill was Luke Skywalker, or the Joker for that matter, he was an unknown. But fast forward to the present, they’re practically household names. I was suddenly excited to see what these fresh fish actors would bring to the table because God knows how sick I would have been if I saw Zac Efron attached to these movies.
And even more happy news, the original actors weren’t going to be glorified cameos. They were going to have actual roles and be actual characters that contribute something to the story. So said the initial buzz, anyway. But we were betting that the makers of this new Star Wars trilogy wouldn’t lie to us. You need to create some good will, lest you risk a disastrous future.
It took some time, like most people I imagine, to get properly excited for this movie. But in time, we were open to the new possibilities and the new direction.
It’s also probably a good time to mention that it was around this time that the powers that be announced that there would be one Star Wars movie a year. That was an ambitious undertaking if you ask me. It was clear that didn’t mean they’d release a direct sequel to their new trilogy a year, but it still wasn’t entirely clear on what it entailed. Fast forward to 2017, we now know. ROGUE ONE became a story about how the Rebels got the Death Star plans in A NEW HOPE (1977), we’re getting an upcoming Han Solo origin story called SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018), and a very real possibility of a Yoda origin story in 2020. Yeah, a Yoda origin story. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Not to mention, it was recently dropped that Rian Johnson, director of THE LAST JEDI is in the process of making his own Star Wars trilogy that has nothing to do with the core films. Further information is nonexistent as I’m sure it’s all in the “brainstorming on college-ruled paper” at the moment, but we’ll see in coming years.
To hold us over though, we have the core films that are probably all we need anyway.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Daisy Ridley (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS , video game STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II , and upcoming films OPHELIA  and- oh God, Daisy, no… – PETER RABBIT ), John Boyega (DETROIT , THE CIRCLE , and the upcoming PACIFIC RIM UPRISING ), Harrison Ford (BLADE RUNNER 2049 , and the upcoming untitled Indiana Jones movie ), Adam Driver (THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES , THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU , J. EDGAR , and upcoming films THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE  and TOUGH AS THEY COME ), and Peter Mayhew (DRAGON BALL GT: A HERO’S LEGACY  and 1 episode of TV show THE MUPPET SHOW [1976 – 1981]).
In support, we have Oscar Isaac (SUBURBICON , ROBIN HOOD , ALL ABOUT BENJAMINS , and upcoming films ANNIHILATION  and LIFE ITSELF ), Carrie Fisher (AUSTIN POWERS , video game STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II , and the upcoming WONDERWELL ), Andy Serkis (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES , and upcoming films BLACK PANTHER  and MOWGLI ), Domhnall Gleeson (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN , UNBROKEN , HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 , and upcoming films A FUTILE & STUPID GESTURE  and PETER RABBIT), and Lupita Nyong’o (QUEEN OF KATWE , THE JUNGLE BOOK , and upcoming films BLACK PANTHER and LITTLE MONSTERS ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have J.J. Abrams, known for SUPER 8 (2011), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006), and directing STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (2013). Co-writing the screenplay alongside Abrams are Lawrence Kasdan (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK , and the upcoming SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY ) and Michael Arndt (TOY STORY 3 ). Composing the score, we have living legend John Williams, known for THE BFG (2016), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS (1977), and upcoming films THE POST (2018) and Star Wars Episode IX (2019). Finally, the cinematographer is Dan Mindel, known for ZOOLANDER 2 (2016), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, and upcoming films PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018).
This is my honest opinion of: STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Thirty years after the destruction of the evil Empire, a new threat has emerged from its ashes called The First Order, and are at war with the New Republic and the Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and The First Order wants to find him, and they know where to find the map that leads to him, in the hands of famed Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who gives it to his faithful droid BB-8 before he gets captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a dark side warrior of the First Order, under the command of Supreme Leader Snoak (Andy Serkis). Though it takes the First Order time to figure out who has the map, one lone stormtrooper FN-2187 helps Poe escape, who gives him the new name, Finn (John Boyega), getting shot down while escaping. Meanwhile, BB-8 has encountered a lone scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who decides to help him get back to the Resistance. As paths converge, both outlaws and veterans of the long-gone Rebel Alliance, conflict comes to a head as Luke’s location becomes clearer.
It’s kind of odd to say that this movie holds up, since it’s only been a measly two years since it came out, but it’s true. It still holds up as a fun and engaging film.
Yup, my biggest issue with the movie remains Kylo Ren. I still can’t let go of how childish he is when things go south for him. When the map to Luke escape Jakku, he slices up a bunch of computer consoles with his lightsaber. When Rey escapes his clutches, he destroys the chair. Despite his power, he remains the worst Star Wars villain. As I said in my transfer review… at least, I think I said this… Kylo’s introduction isn’t bad. In fact, it’s downright classic Star Wars villain. Come in with a pair of armed escorts and murders a dude right there and then. His intimidation could have satisfyingly ended there, but then we throw in Poe trying to snipe the dude, but then Kylo uses the Force to literally stop the laser projectile in place AS WELL AS Poe himself, and that laser stays in place for a good long while. This can be argued to be the coolest intro to a Star Wars villain.
However, my first red flag was when he starts interacting with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). They seem more like competing children flinging immature insults at one another, rather than being two professional leaders in their respective fields cooperating under a banner of mutual respect. But fine, if this was the worst I’d have to put up with, then this movie would be straight up great. After all, you can’t blame the writers for wanting to do something different than the relationship between Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, even though that relationship was surprisingly more interesting to watch.
But those temper tantrums of his are what ultimately kill the intimidation factor. We go from making him arguably one of the most impressive villains of the franchise, to one of the most disappointing. Conceptually, he’s almost brilliant. And in more than a few ways that I haven’t given credit for, the execution of those ideas aren’t done horribly. Usually, when we see bad guys in Star Wars, they’re bad guys who don’t think twice about it, even occasionally relishing in the evil things they do. This is the first time we see a bad guy who is established as the bad guy, but has a consistent fear of turning back to being good. That’s really interesting. It takes effort for Kylo to stay in the dark side. In the past, it almost seems too easy to go in that direction, but now we’re shown a different side of it. And had this been the primary focus of the character instead of his “Hulk smash” attitude distracting the hell out of me, then Kylo would have been one of the highlights of the film instead of its greatest downside.
And before you say it, let me say it for you! “Oh, but you’re forgetting how he survived Chewbacca’s bowcaster and still managed to fight both Finn and Rey efficiently, and that bowcaster has been seen to shred through stormtrooper armor!” I really hate when people bring this up. All of that, as far sensibility is concerned, was not very well written. There is absolutely no reason for Kylo to have taken that bowcaster shot. When Poe tried to snipe him, Kylo reacted like a cat seeing a cucumber. The moment that laser left the barrel of that rifle, Kylo stopped it in its tracks. But remember how that scene played out with Kylo getting shot by Chewy? He kills Han and Chewy lets out a roar! A roar that Kylo would most certainly have heard. And to make matters even more pathetic, Chewy was a lot further away than Poe was! Poe was both closer in proximity and more stealthy in his attempt to kill Kylo, but Chewy announced his presence with a roar and was further away. So what happened that Kylo couldn’t stop that bowcaster blast?!
Fine, say what you must about Kylo getting surprised. I’ll do you one better, let’s just say that Kylo was proverbially drinking in the dark side effect he was getting from killing his dad and he genuinely didn’t hear Chewy roar or see that bolt from his bowcaster. If those bolts have been seen to shred through armor, how in hell didn’t it fry Kylo’s innards?! I can believe that a powerful Force-user could survive a nonthreatening blast to one’s side if they use the Force to shield themselves, but that has to take some serious conscious effort. Not that I’m an expert on the Force because, you know, fiction, but I’ve watched all the movies, played enough of the games, read a couple of novels and comics, so I think I can take some solid educational guesses that aren’t too far off the mark. Point is, you can’t convince me that Kylo threw up a shield to protect himself because he was taken by surprise, remember? So for all intents and purposes, that bolt should have killed him. The only reason it didn’t is because of poor writing.
Smaller issues include the incredibly vast amount of conveniences. Our heroes happening upon the Millennium Falcon didn’t bother me, but Han and Chewy randomly finding it and the only explanation is “they scanned for it”? That was… lucky. Poe surviving the crash and somehow finding his way back to the Resistance from Jakku. R2 just happens to have the missing piece of the map to Luke. For that matter, how did the piece that BB-8 had start off in Lor San Tekka’s (Max von Sydow) hands? When Finn, Han, and Chewy rescue Rey from Starkiller Base, they not only happen to just see her through a window- in this entire base the size of a planet, of course they just happen across her randomly – but they quickly catch up with her through the many passages and corridors when they weren’t anywhere near each other. And of course when Chewy blows the core to Starkiller Base, and Rey and Finn are attempting to leave through the woods, Kylo somehow manages to not only catch up with them when he himself wasn’t near them and wounded for that matter, but was able to get ahead of the two. Again, wounded from Chewy’s bowcaster, mind you.
But before I make this movie sound like it’s bad, let’s talk about everything it did right.
I absolutely love the new characters. Rey is my favorite, and Ridley delivers a fun and energetic performance. I do find myself extremely curious about who her parents are and why she was abandoned on Jakku. From the moment she’s introduced scavenging the ship up till meeting BB-8, everything is beautiful. From that lack of dialog and Ridley’s pitch perfect acting that speaks volumes. That look she gives Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg) when he gives her a measly half portion of food, man… The death defying crap that she has to go through to get these parts, spending who knows how long trying to clean or repair them, only to get enough food for a night? Likely getting horribly ripped off. And the directing and cinematography are all perfect. When Rey looks at that old woman, I honestly couldn’t tell if she was horrified that she’d end up like her, or if she admired her for being sticking it out as long as she has and still going. And when she does eat, marking how many days she’s been on Jakku in the AT-AT walker, sitting outside the walker watching a ship leave the planet, then putting on the rebel pilots helmet, she clearly has dreams of leaving the planet. Just not in the fashion that she does. By the way, for those of you that don’t know, that inflatable bread stuff that Rey eats wasn’t CGI. That was a practical effect and you can totally make your own. I’ll put the ingredients and all after my rating so this doesn’t turn into a cooking channel. For the record, pretty yummy if made right. Anyway, but as wide-eyed as she is, dreaming about something more than this provincial life (ehh, I like Rey more than Belle), she does have those glimpses into her need for survival. When Unkar Plutt sees BB-8 and offers sixty portions of food, clearly a ludicrous amount, the likes of which I doubt Rey has never seen, you see her heavily considering the agreement and it’s easy to see why. All of her scavenging, the effort she puts in and what little is shown for it, all that food would set her up for a really long time. It’s little moments like this that make for a nice hint of darkness. Rey is essentially this generation’s Luke Skywalker, but the writers were smart enough to add realistic drama to her actions and expressions that don’t make her annoying. It’s going to be a blast watching her story unfold in future installments.
Now for Finn. I really like this take on a defective bad guy. We don’t see that very often, outside of Bodhi from ROGUE ONE, who isn’t as interesting a character. It sort of just hit me, he’s that cowardly, hysterical character that you see in horror films, but where so often those characters are incredibly annoying, this is about the only time I’ve ever seen it done right. Think about it, he’s constantly screaming about how he needs to get as far away from the First Order as possible. Even though he’s given a chance to help the Resistance, which in of itself if “away from the First Order”, and even if he didn’t want to stick around to help, à la Iden Versio from BATTLEFRONT II, he could probably have earned himself a transport to wherever he wanted to go… which I guess is a small complaint about his motivations, but his style of hysteria is understandable. His mission on Jakku was his first mission and he wasn’t ready to murder innocent people. What exactly separates him from the rest of the rabble isn’t clear, just bad luck on the First Order’s part. This sends him into a frenzy and wants out, taking his one slim chance to get away. I like his interactions with Rey and Poe, and I really look forward to seeing where they’re going to take Finn’s character in the future as well.
Now let’s talk about Han Solo. It’s no secret that Harrison Ford has never liked Han. He wanted his character to be killed off after EMPIRE, but I think contracts kept him committed to JEDI. So for someone who’s disliked the character for as long as he has, Ford still gives a great performance. Professionalism at its finest. Han is still funny, grizzled, sarcastic, and a grade-A bad-ass. I still chuckle at the moment he blindly shoots a stormtrooper in the face during the battle outside of Maz’s castle. Although I do question where his fascination with Chewy’s bowcaster comes from. In thirty years, he’s never held it and test fired it once? Eh, whatever, it’s a fun relationship. And that he’s the wise mentor of the story makes it all the more satisfying. The only reason I don’t feel that strongly about his death is only because I didn’t agree with Kylo’s character here. If he was a more deplorable, or more sympathetic character, then I would have felt more for it than I ended up feeling. In any case, I’m sure that Ford is happy to put Star Wars behind him. Now he’s just gotta deal with the endless “is there any chance of you returning” questions. Not that he wasn’t getting an endless barrage pre-2015.
The rest of the supporting cast is great too. I really want to see more of Maz (Lupita Nyong’o), Poe, General Hux, and General Leia. I don’t know, does anyone else think that “General Leia” has a more bad-ass ring to it? I just don’t want to see the title go to waste in future installments. Oh and it’d be awesome if Snoak really was that huge. Imagine the possibilities! Chances are, he’s not, but it’d be cool.
I know there’s a lot of people who had some problems with the story, that there’s a little too much repeat from the previous films. A wide-eyed youth from a humble desert planet happening upon a droid belonging to a good guy faction at war with a bad guy faction that has a planet destroying death ball, and all that good stuff. Honestly, I couldn’t really argue that. If this bothers you, it might be for good reason. However, I think I see what the goal here is. Because the prequel trilogy wasn’t the most popular of the Star Wars films, this film wanted to recreate the world that the fans were more familiar with to try and make up for what many consider to be the sins of the past. It’s supposed to show that it understands what makes Star Wars great and memorable. In a lot of ways, the story repeats almost everything from the original trilogy, A NEW HOPE, EMPIRE, and JEDI. By getting those out of the way, it paves the way for something new and an opportunity to present something different, fresh, and with luck, even better. Is it a bit distracting? Yeah, if you had the mind dead-set to see something different. As for me, I just wanted to see something good and fun. I got what I wanted, so I was satisfied.
And that’s how I describe this film: satisfying. While it may not be my favorite of the franchise, it’s a significant boost in quality than the prequels gave. There’s certainly room for improvement, but that’s why we’re getting sequels. This film is a ton of fun, with some ripe and talented new faces that hold their own with the veterans, and it’s very exciting to see the direction the movies will go. There’s mystery, there’s laughs, drama, it’s pretty all encompassing, just like a Star Wars movie should be. This is an awakening that I can definitely feel for.
My honest rating for STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS: a strong 4/5
PS: Rey’s inflatable bread stuff below the poster.
REY’S INFLATABLE BREAD STUFF
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons cake flour
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon matcha powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place the oil in a mug and swirl around to grease the inside.
2. Add the cake flour, sugar, matcha powder, baking powder and salt into the mug, stirring together.
3. Pour in the milk and vanilla, then cook in the microwave on high for 45 seconds.
4. Let cool slightly and serve.
After two attempts of making this stuff, I recommend three tablespoons of flour, not four. And even though the directions don’t say it, I stirred the milk and vanilla as well before microwaving. The texture came out better. I’m sure there’s still some refinement (maybe a little less matcha powder to get the right coloring from the movie) to be had, but it’s a good starting point that worked for me.