Saturday, January 11, 2020

Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker review (spoilers)

I finally had a chance to see Rise of Skywalker on the big screen today. It came to Korea late, opening last Wednesday. And I'm teaching an intensive English camp so no time to see it until this (Saturday) afternoon. Well, as I mentioned, to avoid spoilers (from my son mostly, but general internet spoilers as well) I did view it previously in a very poor format. But Disney, if you're reading this, yes, I did go spend my money on it. And I may do so again.

I didn't hate it. Yes, that is damning with faint praise. But the movie has a lot of problems. And since it's been out long enough, I feel I might as well go all spoilery in my discussion.

Oh, and for parents doing a Google search for "Rise of Skywalker curse words" and ending up here, there are a grand total of one mild swear that I remember. And C-3PO gets all prissy about it.

So, where to begin? I guess I should start, since this is the end of not just its own trilogy but the whole Star Wars Skywalker saga of 9 films, with a bit of a recap of my thoughts on the previous films. And I've also seen a bit of other criticism of the film which will probably influence my thoughts (especially that of Marc Bernardin, co-host of Fatman Beyond with Kevin Smith).

The Force Awakens - the first time I saw it, I was just thrilled to get a SW film that felt like SW. Later, I was less than impressed with J.J.'s blatant riffing off of the beats of the original film, and over-indulgence in fan service. It's not a bad film. It sets the stage well. Gives us lots of questions we want answered (which J.J. is good at, he just often fails at answering them).

The Last Jedi - unlike many others, I don't hate this film. I find it a mess, with four narratives that don't mesh well (and the Po/Holdo and Finn/Rose/DJ narratives are boring and kinda pointless), but it does an amazing job of answering the questions J.J. posed in a way no one expected, and also seemed to be setting up a new SW paradigm that I liked.

The Rise of Skywalker - takes the satisfying (to me anyway) answers that Ryan Johnson gave us to J.J.'s original mystery box questions and threw them all out. It again reverted to riffing off of beats from the original trilogy and blatant fan service. The narrative isn't as messy as TLJ, but it was lacking in substance. It's a fun popcorn movie, which is all SW really needs to be, but it could have been so much more.

I think I mentioned this the other day in my brief comparison of RoS and The Mandalorian, but the first third of this movie seemed poorly edited and paced. It's too manic. I know that a lot of screenwriting advice is to cut exposition and show instead, but in this film, a lot of the exposition is of the blink and you miss it type. And the action in the scenes doesn't make things clearer. That makes it a bit hard to follow the characters' motivations. They seem to be doing a lot of stuff in a rush, but brace yourselves, Macbeth quotes are coming! Lots of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Who is this informant Po and Finn are meeting? We see him for like 10 seconds then we're supposed to feel bad later when his head is plopped on the First Order command room table. Why him? Why was he significant enough that he was not just killed but brought back as a trophy to show the FO commanders?

Why has Lando been camping out on that desert planet for a decade or more? Why did the Sith-cultist that he and Luke were tracking have a dagger made (and I assume he was the one that made it) after the Battle of Endor so that it would match up with the Death Star ruins? Or did Palpatine do that to show him how to get to Exegal with baby Rey? If Palpatine is on Exegal and there are only two Sith Wayfinders, how did one end up on the Death Star and the other on that planet of unknown aliens that Kylo Ren slaughtered at the beginning?

Why were the Knights of Ren so lame? They were set up to be cool Boba Fett style side characters, but in the end they were just chumps.Very underutilized.

Why were every main character's emotional reactions so muted? Everyone's sad about Chewie "dying" for about 10 seconds. Same with Leia's passing.

I understand that the scenes with Leia had to be the way they were. J.J. was working with limited archival footage of Carrie Fisher. They were awkward, though, and future generations who don't know that Fisher passed away before the film was made will find those scenes hard to like, I think. It's that the emotion behind the delivery doesn't always match what is intended within the context of the scenes.

Why destroy the planet Zori and Babu Frick come from? I mean, other than that we just saw it and it's fresh in our minds. It seemed like it was a First Order controlled planet. There were already stormtrooper patrols, the spaceways were blocked (why Zori needed the captain's coin she gave to Po), etc. You'd think they'd pick a planet that they didn't control yet to make their point. 

I think it's kind of cool to bring back Palpatine, but as Bernardin and others have pointed out, it really robs the original trilogy of its impact. Vader returned to the Light Side, but failed to kill Palpatine. Or killed him, but he was somehow resurrected. Anyway, the whole deal with Palpatine at the end was odd. He's got this plan to make Kylo Ren the next Sith Lord (that he can possess), but also to make Rey the next Sith Lord (that he can possess). And then when he finds out Rey and Kylo/Ben are a "diad" he just steals their energy to regenerate himself? This is the mastermind behind 60 years of evil machinations in the galaxy? Spitballing new plans by the seat of his pants? George Lucas is terrible at writing believable character dialogue, but he did an awesome job in the prequels of showing just how cunning and crafty Palpatine was. Maybe dying took something out of him after all. Despite his awesome Force abilities on display, he's depicted as kind of an idiot in this film.

And when Rey started reflecting his Force lightning, why didn't he shut it off? Then she probably would have "struck him down" with her lightsabers and then his plan would be complete and he could possess her and become the Emperor again.

I mean, I could go on. This movie was fun to watch. Lots of fun action scenes. But again, as Bernardin pointed out, it was a lot of fan service. Things happened in the movie not because they made sense from the needs of the narrative, but because we the audience would have a reaction to them. The Force Awakens was similar in this regard. And the Mandalorian, while having a lot of fan service as well, isn't as blatant about it.

The Rise of Skywalker is a decent enough space opera film. It's a decent if not great Star Wars film. But as a capstone of a 40 year, 9 film saga, it falls flat.

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