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[personal profile] 4thofeleven
So, I didn't get a chance to write about this immediately – was away over New Years, and I've been kind of mulling over what I wanted to say since then.

I've got to say, I wasn't exactly a fan.

Part of it's subjective, of course. This wasn't exactly the Star Wars I wanted to see after 2016; Star Wars can be many things, but it should be fun, it should be exciting. I was expecting something of a heist film, what I got was a grim and gritty war film. Points to the writers for trying something different, but I really don't think we needed a Star Wars where rebels against the Empire are visually identified with mujahideen extremists, where the Alliance condones assassination in the name of expedience, where X-Wing fighters are harbingers of destruction and tragedy...

It's a film that tries to end on a note of hope, but seems to think the only way to get there is by wallowing in despair in every scene leading up to it. It's certainly an interesting approach, but not really an enjoyable one.

From a less subjective point of view, there's the issues with the characters and story:

I don't know how much of it is down to rewrites and re-shooting, but the film seems to take forever to actually get going. Much of the first half seems to be setting up a completely different storyline to the one that ends up emerging; it really feels like it's only when the film reaches Yavin that the writing seems to have any idea where it's going. Many of the early scenes feel like the worst excesses of the prequel trilogy – interminable scenes of exposition about characters and places that, it turns out, aren't particularly relevant. Jyn's backstory with Saw Gerrera seems particularly like a hold-over from an earlier draft, with the later being unceremoniously disposed of almost as soon as the two are reunited.

As for the characters, many of them felt either inconsistent or completely undeveloped. Bodhi's reasons for defecting are never discussed; I find myself wondering if an earlier draft had him as a much more minor character, far more crippled by the effects of Gerrara's mind-probe squid, and nobody bothered giving him more characterisation when later drafts spared him that fate.

Jyn and Cassian, meanwhile, suffer from an abrupt re-characterisation about halfway though that makes their character arcs very muddled. Jyn goes from her lowest point, condemning Cassian and the rebellion as just as bad as the Empire, to rallying the Alliance to fight in her next scene with no explanation or shift in characterisation, while throughout the film Cassian is, bafflingly, written as both the voice of hopeful optimism and of ruthlessness. It's not an impossible combination, but the script makes no real effort to reconcile these aspects.

I did like Chirrut and Baze, some of the few points of light in an otherwise fairly grim film – though the later's death felt particularly cruel and pointless. Would it have been too much for him to live to carry forth Chirrut's teachings and philosophy? Or at least, go down doing something of value?

On the continuity front, the film seemed to suffer from the same faults as the old EU: Be it pointless cameoes like Ponda Baba, to over-explaining things that didn't need explanation, like the Death Star's weakness. It was perfectly fine for the Death Star to be destroyed because of Imperial hubris; there was no need for it to have been betrayed and sabotaged. As for Vader's scenes – well, they were fun but could all have been cut. I understand the temptation; who could resist using Vader, given the chance? But it was screentime that could have been better used elsewhere.

And then there's Tarkin. Don't be too proud of this CGI terror you've created... It looked great in short scenes, but the longer he was on screen, the more the flaws became obvious. Lets face it, Peter Cushing was already skirting the edge of the uncanny valley in ANH; they really should have been more cautious in their use of him. Most of his scenes weren't exactly thrilling; 'Internal Imperial Management Disputes' is up there with 'Taxation of Trade Routes' on Things Best Left out of Star Wars'.

Things I did like – As I said, I liked Cirrut and his take on the Force. I liked K2SO. I liked Jedda and its background – it felt like something out of the old Tales of the Jedi comics, a bit more medieval than later depictions of Jedi temples and fortresses.

I loved the space battle – it was nice to see Y-Wings accomplishing something for once, and as an old-school Star Wars flight sim addict, I'm always up for a new TIE variant. I appreciated the way the rebel pilots looked like they'd all stepped out of the 70s. And it's always nice to see Mon Mothma and Bail Organa again.

I mean, there were plenty of moments I enjoyed, but as a whole it never seemed to come together, and the general grim mood left me wondering if the Yuuzan Vong were about to make a return... Compared to The Force Awakens, it was certainly a fair bit more ambitious, more creative, but I think it strayed a bit too far from Star Wars, and the lack of strong characterisation really hurt it. I want to see more of Finn and Rey, and they helped hold together a weak storyline. The characters here, I have to keep looking up their names, and I never really felt particularly attached to the leads. It was an interesting experiment, but not, I felt, a particularly successful one.
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David Newgreen

June 2017

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