Saturday 21 December 2019

Star Wars Episode IX - The Rise Of Skywalker

Merry Sith Mass

Star Wars Episode IX -
The Rise Of Skywalker

2019 USA Directed by J. J. Abrams
UK cinema release print.

Warning: I’ve decided to write this with HUGE SPOILERS in it because I’d rather this review had a little more longevity to it, since my Star Wars ones do tend to get revisited by people a little more than some of my others. Please DO NOT READ this if you’ve not seen the movie.

Okay so, Star Wars Episode IX - The Rise Of Skywalker is a mixture of good and bad stuff, although I quite liked this one but, before I get into it, I just want to reiterate my spoiler warning above. There’s stuff revealed here that you won’t want to know (even if you’ve already figured it out anyway) before seeing the movie... so just don’t read this until after you’ve seen the film.

Right... so if you’ve been keeping track of my Star Wars reviews over the years you’ll know that I really didn’t think much of Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. I think it was a huge wrong turn of a movie with some brilliant set pieces but an absolutely terrible story and direction for all of the characters. In terms of Star Wars films I’d stick it down with Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith as being one of the absolute worst of the series. And, while nobody from the production of the movies has said it outright... although it has been heavily implied by some of the big names behind and in front of the cameras this last few months... I think the producers probably recognised that The Last Jedi was a huge mis-step for the franchise too. Just speculating here, mind but... that’s how I see it as playing out when people have been interviewed. Abrams himself has said this movie is something of a course correction and, yeah... absolutely... The Rise Of Skywalker does spend a lot of its time, perhaps a hugely disproportionate amount of time, backtracking and erasing elements of The Last Jedi. Sometimes though, it does throw the baby out with the bathwater, it has to be said.

To do this, Abrams has had to set up a story beat which I believe he always planned to be there but, because of the way the last movie went (my understanding is that he had little involvement or knowledge of the story of the last one when it was being made) he actually uses the opening crawl to set up the return of Emperor Palpatine where if he’d have done the whole of this trilogy, I believe he would have heralded Palpatine’s return in a much more subtle and surprising way. I don’t have too much of an issue with this, however, because that’s what the title crawls did in the first two movies when they were released in 1977 and 1980 so, it’s not a new thing to bring in new information in this manner.

The fact that Palpatine returns from the dead here is handled in a way that is credible to an extent, if you don’t mind the movie dipping into 1930s/1950s Universal Horror territory... there really is a kind of alchemical ‘weird science’ vibe that’s not been visited before, to my memory, in the Star Wars films but... I think it finds its place in the series and certainly brings a ‘pulp literature’ element with it. And the lighting on Palapatine’s face in his introduction scene reflects this in a wonderful manner too.

Now we get in to the real spoilery stuff so... to quote Edward Van Sloan in Frankenstein... well, we warned you.

A week or two ago, when I realised that Abrams was going to jettison the idea that Rey’s parentage wasn’t important... which is just as well because it was set up so well in the first one that she knew exactly who her important family tree were in The Force Awakens... I was talking to my friend and said, “You know, she’s probably not a Skywalker like you keep saying but Palpatine’s granddaughter. The ‘Rise’ of Skywalker is probably Kylo Ren redeeming himself in a similar way to Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi.” And, yeah, I so totally called it... those things come to pass in this movie. And it all makes sense except the last little scene on Tatooine where Rey refers to herself... as you know she’s going to because of the way the stroy beat is presented... as a Skywalker. Well she totally isn’t but I guess, because she holds all of the past Jedi in her now, she can maybe take that name and, lets face it, if she calls herself Rey Palpatine she’s going to have some serious hate mail. It all works... just... but I do think the ‘pendulum swing’, as Abrams puts it, of The Last Jedi really did hurt this new film with its legacy and things could have fit together in a lot more smoother manner without Episode VIII.

How Abrams cushions the blow and gets the franchise back on course is to completely borrow (see how I’m nicely not using the word ‘plagiarise’ here) a load of elements from a fair few previous films in the franchise. People who love the series will literally recognise scenes taken almost wholesale from the original trilogy and sometimes it’s done in a referential, loving homage kind of way such as Luke lifting his X-Wing from the sea while Yoda’s theme from the similar scene in The Empire Strikes Back plays out in exactly the same orchestration that it might even have been needle-dropped in and... sometimes it isn’t. There was one scene, for instance, when I leaned over to my friend (who had already seen it earlier in the day) and whispered... “Why didn’t they just CGI Don Henderson into this scene if they were going to do this?” So, yeah, some of the stuff was not that subtle and felt... not out of place, just very familiar and, well... there are a lot of bits in this movie where fans of the films will find themselves in very familiar territory.

But you know what? That’s what Star Wars has always been about. Swiping stuff in a postmodern manner from other things. George Lucas couldn’t secure the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie (Flash Gordon already borrowing heavily from Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars books) so he wrote Star Wars and the films have always been full of iconic and often ‘borrowed’ ideas and images which the films have assimilated into their own cinematic language. So I really don’t have a problem with what Abrams is doing here. There are a few things I did have a problem with, though.

Like the introduction of a new droid. Frankly, it’s fun but has no purpose in the plot and feels like a fifth wheel most of the time. It just seems there to sell toys.. as does the clunky (or should that be McClunkey?) bikes that launch the flying stormtroopers. “They fly now!” say three of the characters... somehow oblivious to the fact that their nearest stormtrooper equivalents did in the prequel trilogy too. Didn’t think this added anything to the action scenes but then again, the action scenes were another problem for me.

They felt, somehow, anti-climactic and flat a lot of the time. Ironically, the action sequences in The Last Jedi were far more interesting and impactful. There’s nothing as cool as the throne room skirmish or the battle of Crait in The Rise Of Skywalker, for example. However, the action sequences in this one, although not as exciting, felt more organic to the story and not just slotted in because they felt like they needed something to happen (for the most part). This movie covers a lot of story at a fairly fast pace and so there’s less action but more integrity to the Star Wars universe I felt.

There was a lovely ‘shock’ character death fairly early on in the film but it turns out it was just a dupe and, frankly, lifted from the baskets scene in Raider Of The Lost Ark. I totally bought it for a while before they revealed a certain character was alive. Oh, and for the record, the force energy coming from people’s hands, especially in the later scenes, looks terrible compared to how it looked in the 1980s. Just rubbish and too wispy. Needed to be much more dense, I think.

There’s also a dubious scene which, funnily enough, I was talking to someone about a couple of times over the course of the last few years but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to do it for this film. I said to my girlfriend that they really needed to somehow get Han Solo back in it for a resolution to his son’s character arc but they wouldn’t be able to do it because they would somehow have to coax Harrison Ford back and, also, there’s no precedent in the series for a ‘non-force’ ghost. But, what the heck.... they did it anyway. They must have paid Ford quite handsomely for his little ‘cameo’ here and his appearance is treated in almost exactly the same way as Kevin Costner’s ‘memory ghost’ appearance in Batman Vs Superman. They did it and... it’s a bit questionable but it’s nice to have it and it worked for me.

There were also a lot of voice cast returns of a load of the other Jedi from previous films. I was ridiculed on Twitter by someone for spotting that Liam Neeson’s voice was in the teaser trailer and was told it was Mark Hamil. Nope, it was Neeson, as I’d said. This film would have been a lot better had it brought back full-on force ghosts of a fair few Jedi from the previous movies too but, alas, I guess voice rates must be cheaper and the producers didn’t want to spend the extra money, is my guess.

My biggest gripe is not knowing how in hell they got Luke’s old light sabre still, after that terrible throw away line in The Force Awakens about it being a good question for another day. This was a question I really needed answering and the film makers have just ignored it... which I think is the only way in which Abram’s two movies disrespect the fans of the original films.

One thing I did love about this movie is... finally C3PO was cool again. He’s the least irritating and most witty he’s ever been in the franchise and his character really worked well here. Alas, R2D2 is hardly in it again and I wish they’d used him more but, I’m guessing it might have damaged the story flow in some way and so they chose to do with him what they did here. It was great how they worked C3PO though... really good stuff here.

And, it goes without saying, that the cast in this were all pretty much outstanding... including the new characters although, I wish Keri Russell had turned in her performance without a mask covering her head... she was a cool character. My only grouch about the casting would be that none of the original trilogy characters had much to do and were hardly in it. Carrie Fisher wasn’t integrated nearly as seamlessly as they said she was and, they totally lied about not CGIing her in one scene where, frankly, you couldn’t have had the training scene with Luke and Leia done any other way than to de-age them (and make them look vaguely unreal and cartoony). Luke and Han (who was admittedly a mostly unexpected bonus) hardly have any screen time, Yoda is practically non-existent other than a voice and a brief glimpse and I just felt Billy Dee Williams was kinda wasted in this. He was cool... just under utilised but, at least he got to say a specific line which is pretty much in almost every Star Wars movie, so there’s that. I could also have done with a lot more of Kelly Marie Tran’s character being in here because, frankly, she was one of the best things about The Last Jedi.

There’s probably going to be a lot of criticism of Abrams on this one about how the power of The Force is used in certain scenes but I was fine with it all... especially the cool way in which Rey passes a light sabre to Ben Solo. There actually is a lot of back up in the history of the saga which means this kind of magical stuff is just a slightly different looking iteration of exactly the same kind of thing so I think Abrams and the writers made a good call here. It’s also a really cool moment too so, yeah, again it works for me.

As far as the music goes... John Williams’ score soars as he builds on the themes he introduced in The Force Awakens in exactly the way he didn’t in The Last Jedi. I can’t wait to give the CD a spin fairly soon. I hope they give him an Oscar for this one. He deserves it.

And that’s me pretty much done. I didn’t absolutely love this on first viewing but, like The Force Awakens, which I gave an absolutely terrible review to and regretted doing that as soon as I saw it a second time, I suspect The Rise Of Skywalker will definitely be something I get more out of on future screenings (probably sometime towards the end of next week... I just wish Kerry had been around to see this one). If you are a fan of the franchise then, I think you’ll really like this one. It’s not top tier Star Wars but it’s not bottom tier either which means it’s pretty great, right? But then again, you already know that because you wouldn’t be reading this spoilerific review if you hadn’t already seen it, I hope.

Star Wars at NUTS4R2

 Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 

Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones

Episode 3: Revenge Of The Sith 


Rogue One 

Episode 4: A New Hope

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back

Episode 6: Return Of The Jedi 

Episode 7: The Force Awakens 

Episode 8:  The Last Jedi

Episode 9: The Rise Of Skywalker

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