Westworld Season 2: Penultimate

I’m an odd one in that I like to judge a series based on everything but the final episode.  Goes for seasons as well.  I find that often the final episode is either a set up (season) or a feel-good closure (series) and is a reflection of the story – not an actual part of it.  They are a reward for the viewer.  Cheers, MASH, Lost, Friends, Star Trek… all of them seem to fit that mold.

I like to look back after the penultimate (before-last) episode has aired and take a peek at what worked and what didn’t.

Spoilers likely!

Westworld Season 2 has been fairly uneven.  There have been some really strong stories (Kiksuya) and others that were mostly padding (Akane no Mai).  But such is the fact of building a series of 20 episodes based on a movie that lasted 90 minutes.  There’s going to be padding.  It is really hard to write a riddle, and even harder to write one that lasts for hours.

The gist of this season is that the hosts (robots) are waking up and rebelling.  There are at least 4 different timelines to follow that I caught onto, so you’re often getting answers before seeing the questions… which in turn makes them questions.  It honestly feels like a very abstract puzzle and the pieces are slowly put together, until a the rest sort of falls into place.  It is a serial and requires every episode to be watched, digested, and remembered for future items.  A solid example of an obscure clue is one scene that was filmed in a different aspect ratio, which indicated a different setting.  The show asks a lot of the viewer.

Still, the joy of unraveling a puzzle is as much on the storyteller as it is on us, and the actors do a serviceable job with their material.

The hosts are fractured.  I still have no real idea what Dolores is supposed to be doing, other than managing to have everyone she cares about killed along the way.  She is the pure embodiment of death… a sort of dark mirror of the human Delos employees.  Mave went all Deux Ex Machina and then gave herself up to die… which from a story perspective makes sense to prolong tension… but from a character perspective is a little odd.  She is a dark mirror version of Ford, the park’s creator.  Then we have Akecheta, who has a spiritual link to the world, wants freedom from slavery but also balance from the pure death of all the other parties.  Finally, Bernard is the viewer’s proxy to the mess… present in all timeframes as a more neutral party.  The one who unveils quite a few of the steps, and acts more of a catalyst.  Very against violence, but more lost than anything.  4 different factions, all aiming for freedom, with much different paths.

The humans are split into two parties.  The pure Delos folks who are all about collecting the human experiences found in host.  It is quite difficult to empathize at all with this faction as they are purely motivated by greed, and treat anything/everyone as a threat to that goal.  The other faction are the park managers (Stubbs/Elsie/Lee) which have no stake other than survival.  There’s grey here, but their goals are very short sighted and selfish.  I guess you can count the Man in Black as it’s own faction.  He’s delusional, driven, and without morals.  The penultimate episode focuses on his hiding from good human to pure devil.  He ends up killing his daughter in his mania, and questioning if he’s a host.

Looking at both factions, it’s somewhat clear that the human faction (aside from MiB) is the least developed and least interesting.  They are just backdrop for the hosts to move forward.  Even the conflicts between the hosts are artificial, and truly within themselves.  There’s the fundamental question of how much impact Ford has on each host’s behavior as well… since it’s clear that he intended for Maeve to stay on the train at the end of Season 1.

I have a good idea what will happen in the season ender.  It wouldn’t make sense for the door to actually lead to freedom with the outside world.  The series so far has done a very poor job building a relatable human.  My guess is something more akin to the 13th Floor, where reality itself is questioned.  I further struggle to see how the series can actually evolve past another season.  The majority of hosts have “evolved”, the humans are nearly all dead, and the MiB’s arc is about ready to complete.  I don’t see how there are mysteries left in this story, unless there’s some sort of insane reveal that’s worth exploring.

Overall

Aside from 2 filler episodes, the 2nd season has been very good.  Enough mix of mystery and reveal to keep you guessing what’s next.  It is very helpful that the actors themselves are all top notch.  With a larger societal push towards sci-fi / mystery (check out Netflix’ recent launches), it’s a good thing that cable can still compete.  And I must say that I prefer the weekly breaks, allowing for discussions over what happened and the ability to digest the developments.  Binging is all fine and dandy, but with less cerebral matter.  We all need time to think.

 

 

Solo Tanks

In a world where $83m is considered tanking, no less.

In all seriousness, who is this movie for exactly?  Die hard SW fans already know everything they need to about how he came to be.  Even passing fans have a general idea by watching eps 6, 7 & 8.

We all knew the end point of Rogue One – someone gets the Death Star plans.  What we didn’t know was who, and how.  That story was fairly decent.  It was certainly the best “prequel” to the older story line.

In Solo, you know all the main characters ahead of time.  You know the major plot points – Chewie as a slave, Han winning the ship in a card game, a bro-mance with Lando. There’s no big story tie-in, not set up for something else.

It gets compounded by the divisiveness of The Last Jedi, as much as the fact that movie is only 6 months old.  It sure does smell like cash grab more than anything else.

Interesting take away is what’s next for Disney on this front.  They bet a lot of money on some good stinkers along the way.  John Carter and The Lone Ranger come to mind.  With 2 more “side stories” in the pipe, maybe this is the first and last of the bunch.  If Han, arguably the most likeable character in the SW universe cannot make it work, what change do Obi-Wan and Bobba Fett?

Or maybe audiences just have had enough and Disney has to show some effort.

Streaming Sci-Fi

Renaissance maybe?  Seems to be the go-to theme now.  There are so many options it’s hard to keep them all in line.  Some recent watches below.

The Titan

Conceptually, re-editing genes to live on another planet is a cool idea.  Understanding the sacrifices that people have to make in order to progress through the change would be worth exploring.  Instead it turns into a monster movie.  And not a very good one.

70 minutes of no progress whatsoever, and 27 minutes of content that has no relation to the previous part of the movie.  Taylor Schilling does all the lifting here, while Sam Worthington just stares at labs for an hour.

Lost in Space

Arggghggg.

I really liked the original series.  I don’t have any idea what the attempts was here, other than give Parker Posey a platform to show how great she is.  It also seems like the budget per episode was cut by more and more every every episode.

They could have cut 20% of the running time of each episode – and there would have been no real loss.  And there’s no real tension in anything here – because the focus is on the kids.  Just like in the old series, Will Robinson could not be touched.  The 3 kids here are more or less immortal due to the “can’t hurt kids on TV” rule.  The same rule that makes Stranger Things a bit of a let down in the stress factor.

This should have been “Lost” but in space.  Ah well.

ARQ

A time travelling loop of a story that works quite well.  It’s a cycle story, more like that old ST: TNG episode, where people gradually are able to work things out.  The story makes a bit more sense, the actors do a serviceable job, and the filming is good quality.  The twist (always a twist) at the end is also pretty good.

Primer is one extreme of this genre.  ARQ is a decent middle ground where anyone can follow and appreciate the ride.

Spectral

This was supposed to be a wide cinema release, and has a lot of the bells and whistles of that genre of film.  There’s a lot of (grounded) techno-babble, and you really need to put on the make believe hat to go along with the foundational principles here.  I don’t quite get how the ghosts get to pick what material they can go through, and when, but hey, it’s a movie.

I don’t quite get the movie pitch – a war against ghosts – but it does end up working.  There are casualties that have meaning, including youth.  The final combat scene is really well filmed… it feels very action-y.  There’s liberal use of slow-mo to help sell the idea that ghosts have some sort of weight to the world.

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality.

 

Altered Carbon – Message vs Medium

This post is going to be all over the place, apologies in advance.

I finished Altered Carbon this weekend.  Solid series and recommended, though there are caveats.  There will be some spoilers, but I’ll advise.

Lost

I want to start here because I think Lost hit a social nerve for those interested in TV + serial + mystery + fantasy/sci-fi.  Seasons 1, 2, and 4 were solid high points for me and if you ignore seasons 3 & 6, it could be seen as the “bar” for others to achieve.

What really sets this one apart from other series is that the characters each had their own motivations, mutliple layers of depth, and each moved the story forward through their consistent actions (minus Kate).  That’s just good storytelling.  Furhter helping is that it was set in a giant web of complex stories and rules, which each episode exposed a bit more – then waited an entire week for people to discuss and digest.

Sci-fi books are similar, in that it takes time to read them – time to digest what is on the page.  This part is important.

Ghost in the Shell

The manga is awesome.  The animated movie is foundational to pretty much every sci-fi movie of the past 20 years.  The core concepts of “what is the human soul” still has no answer, and we’re ~20 years from that being a reality.  It’s near-mandatory in order to watch Altered Carbon, and understand what’s going on.

Message & Medium

Some may be familiar with the saying that the “message is the medium”, a statement I think is even more relevant today.  The message is the story, the what.  The medium is the mechanism to tell the story, the how.  I could write an article on global warming, with factual references and logical thought – or I could put a 140 character tweet blaming it on the chinese government.  Apparently the latter has as much weight as the former.

Altered Carbon is a sci-fi film noir.  This means that it’s heavy on flashbacks, emotional relationships doomed for failure, confrontation, and a complex story line.  There are plenty of tropes in this place, but AltC does a solid job of not using that as a crutch.

My gripe with Netflix and the proliferation of binge watching is that the medium is subverted.  Altered Carbon is 10 episodes, and to digest the amount of message in these episodes takes time.  Hard to do when one episode ends and the next automatically starts after 5 seconds.  It means there are pieces that you barely have time to grasp and I found myself rewinding to key dialogue where I thought I saw something important.  In fact, I ended up watching the entire series with close captions to force me to pay more attention to details.

If you do end up watching it, I suggest you don’t watch more than 2 episodes back to back for that reason.

Netflix Series

It would seem to me that Netflix has a framework to series.  They are 8-10 long.  They has a pilot / intro that throws everything at the wall with little depth.  They have an entire episode dedicated to a flashback.  The penultimate episode is the best.  The last 15 minutes of the series are meant to set up the next one.  Most conflicts will end with a fight.

I dislike this formula.  I know why it exists – it has math to prove that it works.  I still dislike it.  Altered Carbon suffers for it.  It should have been cut by 2 episodes and the last episode was all exposition.  Ugh.

Series Overall

The concept is solid.  People are immortal due to technology keeping their “soul” intact, and they can interchange their physical bodies.  Any body.  It makes people, as we in 2018 understand the concept, be disposable.  There’s one scene in particular that I thought crossed a line, without enough forewarning.  Given the characters engaged, they also didn’t act as expected, which should have been righteous fury.

The series does a passable job explaining how these stacks were found, and of course it’s a mysterious extinct civilization.  Enough to say “there are reasons”, and enough to say “we’ll get to this later”.  It’s a bit too much like the Hyperion Cantos.  Could be better, and may be better in the books.

The concept of immortality & absolute power is not only hinted, but explicitly drawn upon.  Religious tones are throughout but not adequately explored except through fear.  It’s a simple fact that all life descends towards chaos over time – it requires energy and effort to apply order.  How those systems conflict with each other is a core concept of this series and it does an ok job at it.

The main plot point takes a detour, but a good one.  The world at hand has depth and complexity.  It shows potential for a Neuromancer type of sub-plot… in creating a heck of a monster.   There are some very good questions that come from this but there’s not enough depth by the end of it.  It is smart in that they avoid the Deus Ex Machina trope, but they don’t close that loop at the end of the series.

There are red herrings all over the place.  The reveal of the real bad guy isn’t obvious, even if you go back in previous episodes.  That part is well written.  The final reveal is exposition, and much too long.  The last 15 minutes are cringeworthy and wholley designed to set up a next series.

I do recommend the series, if only so we can get more complex sci-fi in front of people’s eyes.  There are hiccups, and the target audience is wider than a sci-fi crowd so there’s some dilution in complex ideas.  I’ll be posting more on the ideas presented within, over the next few weeks.

SPOILERS START

Reileen’s character arc is broken, or perhaps not exposed sufficiently.  Her methods make absolutely no sense given her stated goals.  It’s clear from the start that Tak protects himself from attachments, as much for him as for others.  Reileen is pure evil, revolting.  She is also underdevlopped given that she is by far the most powerful person in the entire story.

Oumou is so greasy that it is not possible to feel any pity for her fall from grace.  Her attempt at redemption makes no sense given the lack of development.

Ortega makes some smart moves most of the time, and is our tie to humanity.  She makes a near fatal mistake that would be out of character if not for the fact that she was abandoned by all her support team before that point.

Tak is an odd one.  There’s a lot of depth and complexity here.  He’s very smart and has heightened senses.. but rarely uses them.  He’s trained to take advantage of people, but doesn’t.  His main driver is love for people, but it’s one he actively avoids.  It’s weird.  Like if you watched Batman solve a crime but only as Bruce Wayne.

Lizzie is a problem, or the solution.  What her arc brought to the table was omnipotence.  It wasn’t explored, but it wasn’t closed either.  Either she is removed from the story line moving forward, or people realize that she’s the next step of human evolution.

SPOILERS END

 

 

Altered Carbon – Ep 1

I had not watched this series, and only had a tangential understanding of the plot from the non-stop Netflix trailers.  Duke and Copper mentioned I should take a closer look, so I popped it on while I was running on the treadmill.  As with most series, the first episode (usually a pilot on TV) needs to establish the main characters, the overall plot, and provide a reason to watch episode 2.  I think the first episode does a good job of this

Tangent to start.  Dark City is 20 years old.  You should watch it, because there’s nary a bad scene in this entire film.  Just avoid the voice over part before the title card… the director’s cut avoids this.  Watching this, you can see how tropes can improve a story.  Very much in the vein of “show don’t tell”, Dark City explores what it really means to be human, and what makes up reality if memories are all we have.

Back to Altered Carbon (AltC).  10 episodes, each 1 hour long.  Pushed like nuts by Netflix (to me at least, based on my habits I guess), then fell to the side when Cloverfield came out, then mute.  Maybe they expect me to binge?  I dunno, but the timelines for new releases are much too short.

The general plot assumption is that people’s identities can be stored in disks, that can be implanted in new bodies (sleeves) to essentially live forever.  How new bodies are acquired is an interesting question, in particular the one provided to the main character.  Looking forward to that.  The main character comes back to life after 250 years (more on this) in order to find the murderer of one of the richest people on earth.  There’s a lot of hints at a complex backstory to this character, and I will say that there’s some depth to it.

What works:

  • Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs does a serviceable job.  He is not a plot device, which is nice to see.  He has his own code of ethics, and methods.  He goes on a hell of a bender, knowing that his options are limited.  Most importantly, his decision making is consistent and rational.
  • The flashbacks to a previous sleeve work in the concept of character development and plot exposition.  There’s another arc that’s started.
  • James Purefoy is always an effective heel, or at least presents himself as one.  There’s an elitism to him that works really well here.
  • The main plot generally follows logical steps.  The scene at the end in the hotel works given the setting.  The opening shot is a bit of “ghost in the shell”, but we go back to tropes and water being a birth channel.  It’s a setting and is not abused.
  • There are fundamental rules to the universe that are consistently applied.  There’s no magic ghost that makes things happen because.  There’s also some religious bits in here relating to immortality that resonate well.
  • The art style works, and the VFX/sound work too.  Again, the art has a purpose relating to the classes.  Someone thought this through.
  • By the end of the episode, it feels like there was some minor closure on items, and that you’re about to step in the deep end of the pool.

What doesn’t work:

  • There are some logical/science issues that don’t really jive.  Kovacs already had multiple bodies before his recent death 250 years ago.  I can barely recognize the world 25 years ago.  It doesn’t make sense to have such a dramatic lack of societal progress after a quarter century.  This is a writing trope from the golden age of sci-fi, and will require some further explanation.
  • Where do the bodies come from?  Is it a financial thing to be immortal, because Kovac’s body is over the top quality to be left for scraps.  I don’t get this.
  • The religious tones are seen in the first 10 minutes, then dropped moving forward, which is a shame.  The concept of immortality is a great opportunity – see Hyperion Cantos for a great example.
  • If the main character is not a cop, then the cops in a series are dumb.  The main cop (Ortega by Martha Higareda) is written like a teenager in an adult’s world.  Her partner does a much better job.  Kovacs is essentially teaching them, which is dumb.  This works in Demolition Man, since cops have not seen a murder in 100 years, but it doesn’t work here.  For an example of a well developed cop, see Shi Qiang in Three Body Problem.
  • The kitchen sink is thrown at Kovacs when it comes to absorbing society, and he goes all in on a hell of a drug/booze bender.  It is a lot for a viewer to absorb, and Kovacs himself has trouble with it.  It’s bad in that I lost sense of the episode for nearly 10 minutes.  It’s good because when Kovacs comes out of it, he wants nothing to do with it, instead wanting to stick with simple/archaic entertainment.  Cutting this down a bit would have let other themes grow.

 

This first episode shows some promise; characters appear to have more than one dimension, and there are multiple plot points that are opened up, with a central mystery to drive the story.  It isn’t binge-worthy, mostly because it throws so much at the screen that I can’t digest it all in time, and the foreshadowing to the next episode isn’t all that strong.

Cloverfield Paradox

Murph is watching old movies, I’m watching weird ones.  It so happens to be a genre I rather enjoy – speculative sci-fi.  That is, sci-fi that is just a shade off reality today and in the realm of possible.

Cloverfield Paradox is certainly in that genre, but it suffers for it.

cloverfield_paradox_poster

So just for a second, pretend like this has nothing to do with the Cloverfield universe and is instead just a sci-fi movie.  That makes it a lot easier to watch, since you’re not trying to find links (of which there’s solely one, and it makes the movie worse for it).

Actually, let’s first start with the word paradox.  A set of arguments that appear to be conflicting, yet work together.  The chicken and the egg, going back in time and killing your parents… that sort of thing.  It forces some critical thinking and challenges our perception.  There is no paradox in this film, other than a catchy phrase to talk about inter-dimensional travel that has no set of rules to be followed.

The premise is simple enough.  The world is running out of energy, nearing the brink of war, and countries pile together to send a science ship in orbit to build a particle accelerator to generate large amounts of power.  Convoluted perhaps, but workable.

From that point forward, the entire movie is predicated on sci-fi tropes.

  • multi-national crew that all speak and there are no language barriers (except Zhang Ziyi who can’t).
  • The scientist that no one trusts, with poor plot twist
  • The one dimensional commander who sacrifices himself to save the crew
  • The doctor who’s also a faith practitioner, and won’t perform medical procedures
  • The angry russian
  • The drunk/happy irishman
  • The giant catastrophic event that triggers the film is fixed with a simple solution
  • A group of scientists, hand selected and trained to think logically, make illogical/emotional decisions without justification
  • Random computer errors that kill people
  • Chekov’s gun

Don’t get me wrong, I can live with few tropes in a story.  Not everything has to be 100% original for it to work.  Europa Report is a good example of a small(er) budget sci-fi film that works, despite some of the tropes.  In the best of cases, tropes are vehicles used to expose or familiarize the audience with a concept to make the story go faster.  If you see someone with a cowboy hat in a spaceship… you get an idea of their background.  In the worst of cases, tropes are used to make the story progress.

The bright part of all this is that there are some really good actors/actresses in this film.  The lead part of Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has multiple dimensions and is generally relateable.  Aside from one decision point that lacks adequate background, she does an admirable job of keeping the story grounded.  The rest of the cast does their part, given the limited character development.

The art is solid, the CG top notch.  The filming style is straight from the 90s, of running sideways down the same corridor, endlessly.  The foreshadowing shots are over the top.  I was waiting for the mustache twirl.

After thinking about it a bit more, there’s certainly a director’s cut of this film somewhere.  There are bits of the story that simply do not make a lick of sense.  Things randomly decide to “phase between worlds” when the plot needs them to.  Oh, someone needs to get hurt?  Let’s phase a body part away.  Oh we need to show something is lost?  Let’s phase it into a body part.  And what’s with any of the scenes on Earth?  They serve zero purpose.  Cutting all of that out, then adding in more space station scenes should have been priority #1.

The thing about JJ Abram’s and his fascination with the mystery box is that someone needs to know what that mystery is.  The joy of the gifts at Christmas is as much imagining what’s inside, as it is in opening them.  And you can’t have a mystery movie if no one is in on the mystery (for reference, see seasons 3+ of Lost).  And that’s the largest problem here – the mystery remains a complete mystery by the end.  There are zero answers given for anything other than “MAGIC OF DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL!”.

I like sci-fi movies for their potential.  The ideas and concepts often work as warnings or guidance to society.  Pandorum is a great example.  Cargo is neat too.  They both have flaws, and tropes, but they succeed at telling a consistent story.  Cloverfield Paradox comes close… very close, but never truly delivers on that promise.  I really hope some aspiring writer pays attention here – this is what happens when an idea is not fully fleshed out, and the editor is absent.  A rough draft, which is really too bad.  I so wanted this to work!

And spoilers here.

The only rational explanation of the final shot of the film (again, a sci-fi horror trope) is that this films tore holes in all dimensions.  In that Cloverfield 1 was in dimension A, and Cloverfield Paradox took place in dimensions B and C.  There are a dozen other questions after that statement.

Last Jedi

We’re a couple months in now, so why not.

I like the movie.  More than I expected to.  The new characters had some level of depth to them, and most everyone had an arc.  There were instances of the dumb throughout, but on the whole it was a nice way to start fresh.

Characters

Rey is the crux of it all, practically a McGuffin in fact.  I like that she’s not a Mary Sue, that she’s able to make her own decisions and move forward.  I really like that she’s a nobody, as that string of who her parents were was frustrating from the previous film.  It (and the closing shot) portend to a true re-awakening of the force.  The battle scene with Snoke’s guards with Kylo Ren at her back was great to watch.  Very well filmed.

Kylo Ren is the story catalyst.  There’s certainly an arc, but it isn’t about growth.  It’s like peeling an onion and seeing the various depths.  On the surface he’s a spoiled child, then you see that he’s an abused child, then angry, then scared, the confused.  Doubt about truth seems to motivate him, and the lack of control he shows is amazing.  Sure, it looks like a tantrum but given the circumstances, every single one of his actions becomes justified.  Especially that crater in the ground scene.

Luke is a bit wishy washy to me.  He failed himself and Kylo, gotcha.  His guilt outweighs his reason.  There is no clear link between the Jedi code he so despises versus his actions.  The Yoda scene was expository, but required to push the story forward.  I truly do not understand how he can be portrayed as both incredibly strong and so incredibly weak willed a the same time.

Finn & Rose.  I understand the purpose of their arc, I just don’t see the point.  It could have been solved with any other plot device, like say a spy on their ship.  The entire gambling casino portion felt like a Lucas special-edition throwback.  You’re telling me that they felt more for the horses than they did for the child slaves?  Finn’s need for redemption and purpose is rather clear.  Rose has a little bit of it, but she’s used a bit too much as a plot device to move things forward.  Benicio del Toro’s character is the best part of the movie.

Poe Dameron.  Neat that you get to see the heroes fail, and the impacts of those decisions.  You’d think he’d learn from that but instead every story driver causes him to rebel even more.  Holdo is such an astoundingly poor leader it’s amazing that she doesn’t die from a papercut.  She causes 3/4 of the movie to occur by not acting when she should have.  Finn and Rose would not have left.  There would be no mutiny.  There’d be no final battle.  Poe learns something at the end but it actually goes against his character arc in the film.

Leia.  Or should I just call her space god?  Apparently she learned to control the force, and to a degree that we have never seen anywhere else.  She uses powers the Emperor didn’t have access to.

DJ.  The purpose of this movie was to show shades of grey.  He was a clear marker for that.  His intro was weak but his scenes were worth it.

Plot

New order still being around?  Sure.  We’re talking hundreds of planets.  Getting rid of one won’t stop them.  Getting rid of Snoke… that may change things.  Not sure how only Kylo and Hux are the only 2 people running the show mind you.

Being able to detect movement in hyperspace?  This doesn’t work as a plot device.  See, the order could have just ordered more ships to jump in ahead of the rebels and closed the trap.  It also took around 40 years between Rogue One (where the breadcrumbs start) and this movie for this tech to show up.  It also doesn’t justify Holdo.  Would have been easier to put a spy or some other mechanism.  Feels a bit too much like that Star Trek episode where warp speed destroys the universe… then no one talks about it ever again.

The Holdo arc.  Why would the leader of a couple hundred rebels not tell them what is going on.  She can clearly see the mutiny coming.  She even loses more people because of it.  And at what point did she tell Finn and Rose this secret?  You know, so that they could then DJ the secret, who would then sell that secret to the order?  The only explanation for all this secrecy is having a spy on-board.  See previous plot point.  Also not quite understanding why she would not have gone to hyperspeed immediately after releasing the final shuttle.  She was going to die anyways.

Snoke being nutso.  That part was pretty cool.  Extremely strong in the force.  Focused on a particular target.  That he was oblivious to Kylo using in his room was a bit weird, but it ended up working out.  He was a great plot device and does a great job explaining why there are no old people in the new order.

The casino scene could have been entirely cut and replaced with them walking into a Cantina looking for a criminal.  Same with the Moz scene.

Luke’s planet was neat.  The caretakers were a good touch.  I understand the technical reason for Porgs, though they are bit too much like Tribbles for my tastes.  The light/dark portion was well done.  Seems a stretch that no one knows of a planet strong in the force, but then again everyone is dead.

Luke’s force projection across the galaxy was like Superman turning back time.  He could have easily done this on the actual planet.  His death was ok, though poorly explained.  He certainly didn’t atone for anything.  Just acted as a delay to help with the escape.  There seem to missing some scenes explaining his personal closure after that scene with Yoda.  Also, is he now a force ghost too?

The last shot was a weird one.  The point of episodes 4, 5 & 6 (and 7) have been about the scarcity of force users.  Episode 1 did a really poor job explaining how the Jedi (or Sith) found new recruits.  Maybe everyone is force attuned and doesn’t know it?  It sets up some interesting possibilities.  In particular that there are no force teachers left in the universe.

Filming

I will say that the film is well shot, the images are well constructed with some interesting colors/contrasts.  I wanted more out of the music.

The writing seems like it was edited multiple times by multiple sources.  There are great flashes of brilliance (Kylo) and then it suffers from the dumb (Finn & Rose).  I do like that it throws a lot away and tried to start fresh.  Hats off to that.

The editing is rough.  There are missing scenes that would have helped move this along better, and there are scenes present that serve no purpose.  We didn’t need another space cantina casino showing us aliens.  We didn’t need a perfectly preserved impenetrable ice planet base that happened to have a very large exit in the back.  Also notice how they didn’t shoot from space, even though there were shields, shields that weren’t there since they used a battering ram?