MCN Commentary & Analysis

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (spoiler-free)

The Spoiler Review is here.

Just to lay down a sense of my standards for Star Wars… I am a fan, not a fanboy. I have seen all the previous films multiple times. I saw Star Wars on opening weekend 42 years ago. I didn’t hate The Phantom Menace, but I do find Jar Jar and “Anni!” irritating. I didn’t dislike, but didn’t love J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, mostly because I found his directing marginal at best and didn’t love the whininess of Kylo Ren. I think The Last Jedi is easily the best directed of the entire series, I loved a lot of choices that Rian Johnson made that others disliked, and I would place the film right after the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on my overall list.

All that said…

I kinda hated Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The stuff that Abrams walked back from the Rian Johnson film was slightly irritating, but isn’t keeping me up tonight. (There is one exception that I will have to wait for a spoiler review to get into.)

And the first sequence of the film screamed “Star Trek” at me, which I wasn’t happy about… though it settled down after a while.

What made me crazy while watching this film was three-fold. First, the obnoxiously relentless fan servicing. Second, the unnecessary complication of EVERYTHING. And third, the inability of the film to allow the drama to breathe without cutting it off with a cheap gag. Some of the gags are very funny, don’t get me wrong. But it reminded me of a nervous kid on a date, trying to charm with humor, and then when the making out begins, continuing to try to be funny when the tone of the moment is something else. (Laughing in bed can be great… but you get my point?)

The fan servicing is something that I am not usually bothered by. Really, let people have the stuff they love. I don’t judge that. I don’t hate franchises or Disney IP obsession or any of that. If the movie is great, I am a happy boy. I don’t see a bit of fan servicing as piss in the broth.

However… good GOD! It felt almost like there was a meter on the J.J.’s desk that let him know that if he hadn’t made a reference to the other films or created a new toy every 2.5 minutes, he had to go back and fill the void. Again, details are going to have to be discussed elsewhere. But it is exhausting.

I expect to see a new trick or two or a new creature or four in every movie. But the relentless indulgence of both in this film… too much. Add to that, what is specifically fan service (though I consider both the new tricks and new creatures to be that too on some level) is way out of control. Just try to think of something that was left out and BOOM!, it will arrive. Bad magic.

And some of it really feels like trying to add a new skew to the Star Wars product line. There is one elaborate effort to put the pieces of a particular important prop back together… and what is the result? The same old thing but with red lines all over it where the pieces came back together. What kind of welders are these? Don’t they have black in their toolkit? Irritated me every time I saw it the rest of the way.

And if someone can tell me the actual need for D-0 in this film, I will pay you money. Yes, it functions (why is it called “he?”), but It is not only superfluous, it supplants R2D2, who barely appears in the film.

Something as sensitive as dealing with Princess Leia without Carrie Fisher alive is not badly handled, generally. But J.J. makes many of her appearances even more uncomfortable by adding an actor who makes it a little maudlin.

After 42 years, you may think you know what the powers of The Force are. WRONG!

A lot of people were ticked off by the mental connection between Rey and Kylo Ren in the last film. Well… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

Star Wars is not about Jedi’s being superheroes. And the problem with superheroes, discussed so many times before, is that power needs a boundary to allow for humanity. ‘Nuff said.

And then the story… you will read a lot of critics who complain that it is too complicated. But the horror of it isn’t that the story is complicated, but that a pretty simple story is loaded down with overly complicated ideas that, with few exceptions, are worth the effort.

For instance, there is a tracking device that turns up… very Star Trek… and just so, WHY?!?!

It doesn’t do anything special. The audience isn’t given insight into how it works or why it is so special.

This kind of thing happens a lot. One of them, involving a character, got a giant laugh from the audience… but I don’t know if that means they actually liked it.

Also, why are they adding celebrities in new roles in this film. They know it’s Star Wars, right? I love Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell and Dominic Monaghan… but what the hell are they doing turning up for the first time in the final chapter of a 42-year movie saga? Greg Grunberg may be J.J.’s pal, but he remains a distraction… unlike some cameos from actors who we know from the past but haven’t seen in a while. But he is given even more screen time in this film than the others.

By the third act, it feels like J.J. doesn’t want to end the film. Elements of the series that we are all really familiar with are multiplied beyond logic or twisted comedically.

One example I can offer without spoiling anything is a line said to Rey, as she continues to struggle with her origins. “Your parents WERE nobodies… (long pause)… because they chose to be.”

What. The. Fuck?

That would be like Darth Vader in Jedi saying to Luke, “Well, I’m not actually your father… but I was very involved in your childhood and your parents asked me to look after you if anything happened to them, so…”

One of the core things about Star Wars has been that if a fact was laid out, it stayed a fact. Not so here.

And the comedy… oh, the comedy.

There really isn’t a lot more to say about this, except… CUT IT OUT!

Poe and Finn are cute together. But sometimes, the audience just wants to absorb the moment.

Without spoiling, there is a beat in the film where Billy Dee Williams, who I love to see, has grin on his face that is way too big considering what else is happening in the sequence. For me, this was a symbol of this problem throughout the film.

There were two moments, late in the film, that hit me emotionally exactly as they were meant to. One is a callback from within this specific film. And the other is a beat where Finn shows real emotion, which John Boyega doesn’t get called on to deliver very often. There was also a kind of summing up that I wanted to melt for… but didn’t.

But the ending… including the last big battle… not so thrilling… not so emotional. And amazingly, not even as fun as the end of Jedi. Nor was it as deep or emotional as it wanted to be.

By the end, I was thinking that J.J., knowingly or not, was taking the posture of making his Return of the Jedi following Rian Johnson’s legitimate claim to having delivering the The Empire Strikes Back of this new trilogy. Whatever issues I have with The Force Awakens, it was great compared to this thing. There are things I would have liked better, but I got why audiences were so satisfied with what it was.

And this thing services fans so aggressively, maybe there will be a love fest in some quarters. We know it will make money.

But I found it endlessly frustrating. If they had just decided to get from A to B directly instead of loading up on A1, A2, A3, A4, etc, it would have been improved. Less new stiff distracting from the story… better. Don’t tell every joke you think of… relief. These things would not have made J.J. Abrams’ taste level higher or his directing skills greater than they are. It would not have given the film a truly original idea (of which Last Jedi had a number). But mediocrity would have been better, for me at least.

Spoiler review to come…

14 Responses to “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (spoiler-free)”

  1. movieman says:

    Loved the line, “They win by making you think you’re alone. There’s more of us.”
    Felt like a nod to Trump Resisters. Even if it wasn’t, I still dug it.

    The black waves blew my mind. (I wanted to dive in.)
    I teared up during “The Scene” between Driver and Ridley near the end.
    Was reminded how much I like Oscar Isaac (who’s been kind of MIA lately: why?)

    I’ve always considered myself a bit of a “SW” agnostic (the only movie in the series I’ve seen more than once is the ’77 original), so my expectations probably weren’t as high as everyone who’s going to be seeing it this weekend.
    But I enjoyed it overall and was pleasantly surprised by how many moments of visual beauty there are.
    Had never thought of J.J. in those terms before.
    So a “B”-ish grade from me.

  2. Mark says:

    “That would be like Darth Vader in Jedi saying to Luke, “Well, I’m not actually your father… but I was very involved in your childhood and your parents asked me to look after you if anything happened to them, so…”

    One of the core things about Star Wars has been that if a fact was laid out, it stayed a fact. Not so here.”

    You…you do realize that the “I am your father” moment in of itself was changing a fact? Since it was said as a matter of fact, NOT “a certain point of view”, that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke’s father in the original movie?

  3. amblinman says:

    Looks like the movie is taking a beating from critics. I wonder if just maaaaybe SW as an IP was mostly special because of its paucity originally?

    Maybe the MCU approach just doesn’t work with any IP regardless of past successes of both platforms.

    (Yeah, I’m talking about IPs and platforms instead of the movie. It’s Star Wars. Fuck am I gonna discuss? Everyone only cares about Baby Yoda now anyway.)

  4. palmtree says:

    It’s disappointing to hear Rian Johnson’s stuff being walked back. Still I’m excited, but now in a Games of Thrones “let’s get this over with” sort of way.

  5. amblinman says:

    I didn’t like Jedi. Mostly for something that Abrams kinda hinted at: I appreciate taking a different direction, deconstructing myths, etc but it just felt like one long exericse in being told what you liked about the series is stupid. And on a dorky point I hate the way Jedis are treated like mutants vs Shaolin Monks. Mostly I just didn’t think it was a fun movie to sit through. I have no expectations for Rise pro or con. I do think Johnson left the story in a mess, no idea who is supposed to be where nor what it is they want/trying to achieve. I’m sure it doesn’t matter to this movie anyway.

  6. Monco says:

    Don’t care about this franchise or IP anymore after the Force Awakens and Last Jedi and I will not be seeing this movie. This is from someone who saw both The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones 9 times each in the theater (Revenge of the Sith 3). But the statement of how the Last Jedi is “easily” the best directed of the movies needs to be called out. The classicism of Lucas’ direction of the prequels puts Rian Johnson to shame.

  7. amblinman says:

    You cannot insist Lucas’ filmmaking puts anyone to shame while his actors came across as wooden props while reading his awful dialogue.

  8. Dr Wally Rises says:

    It’s a craven mea culpa tour that shamelessly pushes every fan button in the book to try and ‘atone’ for a sincere effort from a wonderful moviemaker who had the stones to actually make Star Wars interesting again. The whining fanbabies have gotten exactly the movie they wanted. I hope they’re satisfied.

    That said, it doesn’t suck totally. Say what you will, Abrams knows how to keep things moving, and paces this one like a rocket with whiplash. The Rey heritage reveal does kinda make dramatic sense even if it’s an obvious retrofit. I don’t quite agree with Dave about the humor – these actors have an easy rapport and it’s a pleasure to see them off on an adventure as a group again. The new characters worked well for me – General Pryde was cool, Zorrii was cool if underused, the little dude servicing Threepio was cool and funny.

    Finally though, what used to be something very special is now pretty much interchangeable from pretty much any other megabucks movie. It used to be a Saga, now it’s a franchise. Some will enjoy it, some will hate it, and so the wheel keeps turning.

  9. amblinman says:

    “Finally though, what used to be something very special is now pretty much interchangeable from pretty much any other megabucks movie. It used to be a Saga, now it’s a franchise. Some will enjoy it, some will hate it, and so the wheel keeps turning.”

    There was a headline the other day that I noticed stating that Disney was moving away from anymore trilogies. This underlines what you’re talking about. These things can’t possibly be special when they’re treated like a Starbucks. I love the idea of trilogies because your characters have a story, a reason for existing. A begining, middle, and end. Franchises simply push the ball to the next movie. It’s like professional wrestling: they use the TV matches to push the ppv’s and the ppv’s to push TV.

    Sucks.

  10. David Poland says:

    Mark… i actually don’t remember it. Who said it? Ben?

  11. David Poland says:

    Movieman… that was one of the 2 beats that got to me emotionally through the entire film.

  12. movieman says:

    Cool.
    Of course I’m an incurable romantic and nothing triggers my tear ducts more than Doomed Love love stories (“The Sterile Cuckoo,” “Baby It’s You,” “Dogfight,” etc.).

  13. Geoff says:

    David, I pretty much agree with you on most points of this review….and yet I enjoyed this movie in spite of itself: it’s shameless, hyperactive, overly manipulative but I feel like it achieves what it sets out to do for the most part. This was pretty much Star Wars Endgame and I enjoyed it MORE than ‘Endgame mainly based on two factors:
    – JJ doesn’t have an original idea in his pretty little head but he’s a better director than the Russo Brothers hands-down.
    – I grew up on Star Wars and have seen every one of them in theaters….I love most if not all of these characters whereas I just love about half of the MCU crew, just personal preference.

    The story makes about as much sense as ‘Endgame if you examine them both….actually this is pretty much an ‘Endgame body-frame built on a Return of the Jedi chassis with a ‘Deathly Hollows engine, a Return of the King transmission, with Batman V Superman rear spoiler and grills added on! 🙂 But at its core, it’s a Marvel team-up movie in space for better or worse – if you’re a Star Wars fan and you actually avoid thinking about the story or how it all come together, it’s an enjoyable experience.

  14. movieman says:

    Have b.o. doom merchants already branded “Skywalker” a “disappointment” because it didn’t hit $200-million in its opening weekend?

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