I liked it. But unlike The Force Awakens or Rogue One, where I had this visceral love for each, this one left me sitting going “huh.”
That’s not a bad thing. I’ve maintained that Star Wars fans hate changes, and in both instances, Lucasfilm made a couple of really good strategic decisions when they relaunched the franchise: give people what they want, before doing anything too radical with the story. J.J. Abrams was great as a get-the-films-out-of-the-gate sort of guy, because he’s so steeped in nostalgia, but Rian Johnson is a much better visual storyteller, and what we got was a film that really pushed the limits of what we expected a Star Wars film to be. People were understandably nervous about new Star Wars movies after The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith.
I wrote a bit for The Verge about why it was good that we didn’t get answers we wanted about Snoke or Rey’s parents, which essentially boils down to ‘Johnson was permitted to create a story unencumbered by the questions Abrams lined up,’ and I really appreciate that he was able to take and mold Star Wars the way he wanted to, which surprised me: LFL has, after all, fired three of its directors, and extensively reshot two of its films. We’ve seen this with Marvel and other franchises: series that get bogged down with a lot of baggage, which puts the storyteller into a corner.
The more I think about the film, the more I like it: there’s a lot to dig into in the script, visually it’s stunning, and there’s a lot of pushback against the tropes that define the franchise. There are, of course, things that I’ll nitpick at, like the notion that the First Order will waste 16 hours chasing a Resistance fleet. Finn and Rose never quite mesh, and their storyline is a bit of a waste. Phasma was wasted again. But there’s brilliant parts too: the stunning lightsaber fight in Snoke’s throne room, Yoda’s lesson that failure is the greatest teacher (which is on par with his other musings), and other bits, like the Porgs.
It’s a smart film, and if this is the direction that the franchise is going in, I’m really excited to see what’s in store next.