Friday, December 27, 2019

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I was stoked for this movie. How could I not be? I am a huge fan of both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I was invested in the story and the characters of this highly unlikely sequel trilogy, something we thought we would never ever even get! And here we are, at the end of this 4-year journey. And the results are… well… it could have been better. …a lot better. Spoilers abound, proceed at your own risk!  Dim the lights and roll Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker!

So our friend Emperor Palpatine is alive somehow, living on a horror movie planet called Exogol with millions of Sith cultists and a fleet of Death Star tech-wielding Star Destroyers at his disposal. Kylo Ren shows up and is all “hey, what’s the deal?” And Palps is all “hey, go kill Rey and I’ll think you’re even more awesome than Darth Vader.” And Kylo is all “sweet, BRB.” And Palps is all “hey, btw, she’s my granddaughter and the key to, y’know, everything. But don’t tell her.” And Kylo is all “oh don’t worry, my dude. I hate that friend-zoning harpy, I don’t have a boner for her at all.” Then a bunch of craziness happens on a bunch of different planets surrounding these Satanic TomToms and a Sith Dagger, Kylo tells Rey about her heritage, they have a cool lightsaber duel on the wreckage of the second Death Star, Kylo turns to the light, they confront Palps together, kill him off, Rey dies, Kylo brings her back to life, they kiss (BARF!) and then dies himself FOR SOME REASON, and the galaxy is at peace once again. That’s Rise of Skywalker in its barest of barebones nutshells. See the dang movie for more details, I’m not freakin’ Wookiepedia over here. 

Most reviews for this movie are largely the same, that the movie is unimaginative, it undoes several key plot developments from Episode 8, it sidelines Rose Tico, and its frantic pacing doesn’t give the audience a chance to absorb just what the hell is going on. There’s a lot to agree and disagree with here. This movie doesn’t undo anything that happens in The Last Jedi, if anything it expands and builds on several key elements of it, with mixed results. To say that this movie undoes anything that happens in TLJ is absurd. As for Rose… look guys, she’s an okay character, but she’s not a breakout phenomenon. She didn’t sell toys, which whether you like it or not, matters in Star Wars. I don’t think it was malicious, it was just practical. Get over it.

The other common criticism that is B.S. is that the movie is unimaginative. No no no. The problem is that the movie is too imaginative. Instead of focusing on two or three ideas, it seems J.J. and company decided to do every idea that came into their heads, but they had less than two and a half hours to do so. So that last common criticism, that the movie is a hurried mess, is absolutely justified. In The Force Awakens, we spent close to 45 minutes on and around Jakku getting to know all the new characters and getting a feel for what is going on. By that same point in Rise of Skywalker, we were probably on our third or fourth major location and/or plot point. New and interesting characters are introduced and promptly forgotten at a pace that would make even Tommy Wiseau cringe, and they are therefore rendered meaningless and without substance. Had they been given their proper time and attention, they’d have been amazing.

The dialogue, when not being improvised with hysterical (in a good way) results from the main characters, is horrendous. Major reveals are just spoken with no on screen action to back them up. “Oh, Palpatine has returned and is forming the Final Order.” Say WHAT? How do you know that, Poe? Oh, we’re not dwelling on it, we’re just moving on. Cool, I guess. And that’s just the first of major plot developments being spoken into existence, it continues like that for the whole movie. And the majority of those plot points, if you think about it for five seconds, make little to no sense. The movie’s cinematography also lacks grandeur, everything looks like it was shot for television instead of the silver screen, which makes the movie feel small and cramped, making the dialogue-driven plot even more irritating. It feels like we’re watching somebody explain things to us instead of watching things actually happen.

And as long as we are going through a litany of the movie’s faults, I think I have to say that the inclusion of Carrie Fisher was a huge, huge mistake. You could tell she didn’t belong, it really felt like Weekend at Bernie’s in the worst possible way in poorly designed scenes centered around dialogue that everybody knows was picked up off TFA’s cutting room floor.  The kiss between Rey and Kylo made me want to vomit. There, I said it. Other things I didn’t care for were Hux’s unsatisfying death and that scene with Han Solo, which I found to be unnecessary, awkward and forced. 

There is, however, a lot to like about this movie. Despite the flaws I’ve already gone through, I was genuinely entertained throughout the movie. I have to call out my old friend Threepio, portrayed hilariously by Anthony Daniels, as the funniest character in the entire movie. This was Threepio at his best, he hadn’t been this funny since The Empire Strikes Back. As previously stated, the comedic improvisation between Rey, Finn and Poe, will keep you (at the very least) remembering why you like them so much as characters. The fact that they are legit trio is very heartwarming. Zorii and Jannah are both very well-conceived and designed characters, as are The Knights of Ren, despite not getting a chance to properly shine.  And I loved everything about the Sith Planet and zombie Palps, that was just so much fun to see and probably what I will remember most fondly about the movie.

With all this being said, I would like to say that I think J.J. Abrams was handed and impossible task from the word go. Carrie Fisher unexpectedly died in late 2016, and the entire movie allegedly centered around her character, so they had to start completely from scratch to finish up what was supposedly a loosely plotted trilogy of movies. Then they had to fire the original director. Then all that fanboy backlash from The Last Jedi happened, rendering the topic of Star Wars as toxic as talking about politics on Facebook. Then, at some point, the decision came down from Disney that they wanted to market this as a definitive end to the so-called “Skywalker Saga,” and they wanted to tie all the previous movies into this one, not just the movies inclusive to the sequel trilogy. And J.J. and company had less than two years to pull it all off. He had no script, no ideas, no nothing, and a hard December 2019 release date.  

Also take into account that the rejuvenating energy that surrounded The Force Awakens (and to a lesser, but still considerable extent Rogue One) had considerably dulled. These characters were no longer fresh and exciting, they were established entities that everybody was familiar with and had strong opinions about. It would be difficult for anybody under these circumstances to create something on the same level of quality and enthusiasm as what had come before.

The movie’s failure is simple, it does not spend enough time on any given plot point or set piece for the movie to establish any substance, which in turn robbed it of its own identity. And as a result, we have a conclusion to a trilogy that is less-than-stellar, a movie that manages to be both awesome and awful at the same time. It’s a shame because so much of the promise of episodes 7 and 8 go unfulfilled, and we are left wondering what could have been if the movie had received a smooth production, or even an extra year to create something truly great. The characters deserved better, the actors deserved better, the audience deserved better. 

But I will always be grateful for the awesomeness that was The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. There’s nothing to be done about how this movie turned out. No point in being mad or bitter about it. It is what it is. In time, I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate more about the movie as I have all the prequels. And despite what Disney says now, there will be an Episode 10 in our lifetimes, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds in the galaxy far, far away!

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