This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Sally Jane Black’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
What's true is that much of the wealth is in the hands of those who sell weapons to the empire, whether in this space fantasy or our own world, but the half-assed demonizing of the "rebels" feels both like a badly written attempt to insert some gray areas into stories that have no room or need for them and similarly weak commentary on our own world. The insertion of the casino sequence is so out of place in what should be this tense showdown of a movie that the entire sequence is left feeling like a deliberate, heavy-handed statement. The narrative purpose is to give us just enough foreshadowing for that final scene, but that "payoff" is corny in execution (not a dealbreaker in a Star Wars film, but) and built on something too poorly woven into the narrative to really work. As part of the narrative response to the failed distress signal, it comes off as shallow because of the foreshadowing felt forced.
Which is the biggest problem here: the writing feels like it's a hundred ideas cobbled together and desperately tied together. Instead of plot or story, we get distractions, shortcuts, laziness. Coincidences push the story forward--either that thief is a plant (how did the First Order know they'd be there?) or an unbelievable coincidence, it's just happenstance that emblem is the metal he needs, etc. Instead of tension, we get delays. The stand off between Snoke and Laura Dern should have been a long, suspenseful battle of wits, or perhaps a struggle of wills, or... anything other than "oh we're just gonna be just out of range for any real danger while our heroes do things that we've shoehorned in." It's a distraction from the actual conflict, a second conflict just to use a few more characters. There's not enough story to handle them all, and because of that, the characterization suffers greatly. (Not, I think, coincidentally, two of the characters of color are the ones shunted off on this side quest.) The pacing also suffers for it.
Chewie and the porgs (which were kinda cute and it's fucked up he was gonna eat one holy shit) is just a distraction, something to do because Han Solo's not around for him to bounce off. Finn's recovery from the end of the last film is instantaneous, rendering his incapacity pointless except as a means to remove him from the end of the last one for no reason. It doesn't even provide an emotional moment when he and Rey reunite, because they're given no breathing room. No one is given breathing room; it feels like the writers have no regard for the characters. Instead, they are given stuff to do, a few one-liners, and a lot of shouting to do. The strength of the old characters (from the original trilogy or even from The Force Awakens) is that the relationships they have with other characters is mostly established. Instead of letting those relationships re-establish or grow or in anyway exist, we just get brief moments, handshakes, hugs, smiles, looks that tell us almost nothing. Occasionally, a piece of dialogue will inform us of something (Rose was oppressed! Poe is a rogue!) while their characterization could easily just be showing us this. Instead, Rose's motivations are a mixture of grief (barely touched on) and her past (referenced but never illustrated effectively). Instead, Poe's loose cannon approach derives mostly from the need in the narrative to delay shit or give people things to do rather than any sense of his character. It's especially frustrating because it's obvious Laura Dern's character is more competent that he sees her (he literally derisively calls her "lady"). This is to Dern's credit, as the most characterization we get there is Poe thinking she'd be different somehow and one good conversation with Leia. In the end, Poe's blatant sexism isn't even called out so much as forgiven ("I like him," she says, inexplicably after he tried to mutiny).
(The one former relationship that's given any time is Luke and Yoda, brief as it is, and it's... so fucking bad. Just... the worst dialogue in the entire film.)
The strongest characterizations, which are still relatively weak, are for Kylo Ren and Rey. For them, a real story, a real conflict, is built. And it's satisfyingly developed and executed, save for its resolution on Snoke's ship (that is, Rey just kinda escapes off-camera). This leads to another strong stand off, one that has some power to at first--Kylo Ren and Luke--but the resolution of that, too, feels cheap. It's another distraction, though at least there's some powerful drama going on there, built up to over both films. Still, it's disjointed. Luke arrives out of nowhere, and the way that moment ends for him feels tacked on--of course Luke was gonna die here but it felt like it happened because the writers wanted it to and not because the story needed it to. We're left not really knowing who any of these characters really are, which is impressive, since we've had five films to get to know some of them. They're just pieces being moved around.
There are amazing images in this. Snoke's throne room. The salt rising in clouds of blood red. The jagged, rocky island in the middle of nowhere. The lightspeed obliteration. Red, white, black. Stark colors. Colors of death. It can be breathtaking, but much like everything else good in this film, the filmmakers ruin it. For this, it's mostly in the repetition. We see Kylo Ren enter and we get the full force of Snoke's throne room. Then he enters with Rey and we see it again. Then it cuts, and comes back later. Over and over again. Instead of finding a new angle or new vision, we get pretty much the same thing over and over. The same with the salt. Repeated shots of the salt-surfing things reduce the initial strength of the image. At least for this, they do find a few new ways to focus on it (the trails entering the mine in the aftermath look like blood smears). But for the most part, the best images are repeated ad nauseum, and instead of reinforcing the wonder and horror of this universe, it reinforces the sense that the filmmakers only have a few ideas.
The ending sets up something I genuinely hope will be amazing. One of my favorite plotlines ever is the small resistance force fighting the massive empire (I'm sure you could guess). Some mixture of espionage, sabotage, and rousing the population up against their oppressive masters, goddamn, that would be amazing. But I've no faith in the filmmakers. We're going to get something without substance, without any new ideas, without anything but a bunch of shallow set pieces.
But that bit with the iron was fucking genius.