When Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005, it was supposed to be the end of the Star Wars saga. After a trilogy of prequels that missed the mark more than they hit it, that didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Then Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced Episodes VII through IX.
There are some people who think Disney Star Wars is some sort of affront to the old movies and expanded universe material. I am not one of those people. As I have mentioned before, George Lucas always intended these to be kids movies that teach a simple lesson on friendship and knowing right from wrong. I don’t really get the whole idea that Disney somehow sanitized Star Wars since the core Episodes have literally always been a straightforward tale of good versus evil.
The Force Awakens captures that original intent magnificently. Addressing the big criticism right off the bat – yes, it is similar to A New Hope. That has never bothered me, though, because by 2015 people were shitting all over the prequels constantly. This was before those movies became sentimental favorites thanks to hilarious memes. Instead, they were maligned for being boring and focusing too much on political squabbles rather than fun adventures.
JJ Abrams made the Star Wars movie that needed to be made – a fast-paced, humorous, exciting adventure. The series needed that reminder of where it came from in order to silence any doubts. Abrams distanced the new trilogy from the prequels by drawing on the formula of A New Hope to set the stage. It was a smart move.
And hey – George Lucas even said that Star Wars is poetry, it rhymes. How many things did the prequels lift from the originals? Shit, back in the day he used the Death Star twice in one trilogy. Embracing the familiar is commonplace in this series. Given that The Last Jedi borrows heavily from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, maybe there is a conversation to be had about Disney’s Episodes playing it too safe. But at least for TFA, we needed that rhyme.
As the opening salvo in a new era for the franchise, TFA crushes. It’s all killer, no filler. Right from the opening moments it is about that action, introducing new villain Kylo Ren as a beast (the score when he first shows up, dang). I had forgotten what a good villain he was, even if Adam Driver is weird looking. He’s merciless and demented, throwing temper tantrums and punching his blaster wound and shit.
Speaking of his blaster wound – you have to give it up for this movie’s use of professional wrestling booking techniques. In wrestling, there is such a thing as a protected finisher – a move that nobody ever kicks out of, which makes it matter. Only a handful of people ever kicked out of Hulk Hogan’s Atomic Leg Drop. That means essentially when he did the move, you knew it was the end of the match since even the strongest go down to the big leg. And if somebody was tough enough to kick out of it? Well shit, they must be the real deal.
Chewbacca’s bowcaster is put over bigly throughout the movie, sending baddies flying across the screen with a single shot. When Kylo Ren kills Han Solo, an enraged Chewie nails Ren in the torso and it simply drops him to one knee. He kicked out of the Hogan Leg Drop, then shows up in the woods all sweaty and bleeding, punching his wound and ready to fight. That is how you make your antagonist look like a complete psycho and powerful. A compelling villain is fully established.
And make no mistake, Kylo Ren is a villain. It is nice having the First Order slaughter a village in the opening moments so we can make clear early on people who rep First Order merchandise in real life are weird. Further, this dude murdered Han Solo and Luke’s new trainees. As we approach The Rise of Skywalker, I must say I have no interest in seeing Ben Solo redeemed for his actions. Been there, done that with Darth Vader. You really want to do something surprising? Have Kylo Ren be a fucking asshole all the way to his grave.
In addition to Kylo Ren being a great villain, the new heroes are excellent. I have no idea how you could not love Rey, Finn and Poe. There is not enough of the beautiful Oscar Isaac in TFA, but when Poe is on screen he’s the one and has great chemistry with John Boyega’s Finn. Love Finn. I said when the movie first came out, if I was a kid I would want to be Finn since he’s so fun and cool. I love that Finn wants so hard to be a hero but is also a bit of a chicken. And of course, Daisy Ridley rules all as Rey. It’s a tall order being asked to become the new face of the world’s largest multimedia property, but she nailed it. Rey is charming and funny and can clearly beat some ass. Ridley’s presence makes you become immediately invested in Rey’s journey.
I walked away from this movie thinking hers would be the most epic journey. That literal cliffhanger ending opened the door to such a bright future for the trilogy.
I loved the setup for the larger world, too. TFA never slows down to explain too much, and that is fine. Keep the action moving, but give us enough to get a sense for the state of affairs. This is akin to how A New Hope tosses out concepts like the Empire being bad, the Clone Wars and the dissolution of the Senate to explain there is a larger universe without going deeper.
TFA shows that remnants of the Empire are rising up all these years later, Snoke corrupted Ben Solo and ruined Luke, Ben became Kylo Ren and leads the Knights of Ren, the Skywalker lightsaber was somehow found and calls to this strange new scavenger girl for some reason, said scavenger girl is insanely powerful seemingly out of nowhere, there was a New Republic but now their government has been obliterated.
This is the last Star Wars trilogy! There is a lot there to work with for future installments so we can wrap up a nine movie saga in a coherent and fun way! Exciting!
Unfortunately, The Last Jedi does nothing to address any of that stuff.