Archive for December 28th, 2019

The rise of skywalker posterBe careful what you wish for!  There was a small but very vocal group of fans who called for The Last Jedi to be remade, and, or expunged from Star Wars canon.  To a certain extent, The Rise Of Skywalker does that, winding back on some plot points, and conveniently forgetting others.  It is certainly a film that doesn’t seem to like Rian Johnson’s entry into the series.  Chances are if you are reading this you have seen both The Last Jedi, and Rise of Skywalker, if you haven’t be warned there are SPOILERS ahead.  For the record I really like The Last Jedi, it is bold, brave, and my favourite of the three sequels.  The Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.  It is largely a fun watch.  To begin, here is a brief synopsis:

An unmentioned time after the events of The Last Jedi, the resistance have regrouped.  Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now Supreme Leader of The First Order is hunting for Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who appears to have survived the events of Return of the Jedi.  Rey (Daisy Ridley), breaks off from her Jedi training with Leia (Carrie Fisher) to go on a quest with Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), also to find Palpatine , and save the universe one last time!

Lucasfilm, Like Marvel Studios is now owned by Disney, there is significant difference with the way they are run.  Kevin Feige President and CCO of Marvel Studios oversees all Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  While each film is written and directed as a standalone film, they all have to fit in with Feige’s overriding vision.  This has resulted in very few missteps, and less militant fans than Star Wars have experienced in recent films.  The whole approach to the Star Wars sequels has been somewhat haphazard.  J. J. Abrams was hired to write and direct The Force awakens, a satisfying if unadventurous start.   Rian Johnson, was then hired to write and direct The Last Jedi, and write a story treatment for the then unnamed Episode IX. Colin Trevorrow was announced as the director, and was also to write a script based on Johnsons treatment.  Then things started to go wrong, it was announced that Johnson wasn’t involved in the writing and Trevorrow had left following “creative differences” to be replaced by J. J. Abrams.  The result of this is a very disjointed trilogy.  To be clear I enjoyed all three movies taken on their own merits, but they don’t work together the way the original trilogy, ore dare I say it, the prequels do.Endgame Portals

Going back to the original Star Warts from 1977, sequels were not a guarantee, the film had to exist on its own merits and have a self contained story.  I remember back in the 1980’s around the time of the release of Return of the Jedi (1983) George Lucas saying he always intended Star Wars to be three trilogies.  By the time of the prequels (1999 – 2005) he hat retconned this and said that it could only ever be two trilogies, the story was complete, and the story was always going to be the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.  Despite this rather fluid attitude to the truth of the matter, Lucas did always have a through narrative, he may not have been sure where he would stop along the way but he seemed to know where the story was going – how it got there was sometimes better than others!  What would the harm of Disney giving one person (possibly Abrams, or Johnson) the job a writing a treatment for the trilogy giving the other writer directors a clear point where their movie needed to start and end to fit with the overarching narrative?return of the jedi

As mentioned, I did enjoy Rise of Skywalker, so let’s begin with the film does get right? The first thing is the characters.  Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), have always been excellent characters.  Finn (John Boyega), was great in The Force Awakens but had outgrown his usefulness by The Last Jedi.  Finn benefits most from keeping the triumvirate together for prolonged sections of the film.  Given the small amounts of unused footage from previous films, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is used well within the narrative.  Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) works well as the big bad following the removal of Snoke (Andy Serkis) from the table in the previous film.  Snoke wasn’t the most animated of characters (pun totally accidental), so is largely interchangeable with the new incarnation of Palpatine.  There is an issue with the cast, there are lots of new faces, and some returning from past movies, many of these are unnecessary, and are wither cheesy fan service, or who hint at stories that are not developed.  The biggest looser is Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who could be an amazing character, but is given little to do.  While is Jannah (Naomi Ackie) is a strong presence with a couple of good scenes, most her characters part could have been taken by Rose, trimming a little of the runtime in the process.  Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) is also an interesting inclusion,  aside from an excellent silent exchange with Poe, she again has little to do.  She could however make an interesting spinoff character in her own movie/tv show?  All in all, the plot moves at such a breakneck pace that there is no time to develop characters or relationships.  This shouldn’t be a problem, we are in the final act, it’s a little late for character development.  This goes back to the disjointed shift in narrative between the three movies.  Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is just a few beets away from being the most interesting character in the Star Wars universe, he along with Rey suffer the least from the narrative inconsistency, as they are torn characters who are drawn, not just to each other, but to the others side of the force.  In the week since the movie came out twitter has been awash with Ben/Ren fans unhappy with his demise.  This for me in lunacy, given his role in mass genocide, his personal sacrifice was the characters only hope of redemption!the rise of skywalker rey fin poe

Back to the positive, the film also looks and sounds amazing.  Both the score (John Williams music has all the pomp you would expect) and the sound design are spectacular.  The look of the film is up with the best Star Wars has to offer.  It is as much about the production design as the effects and photography.  The Lightsaber against the Knights of Ren is a nice counterpoint to the throne room fight in The Last Jedi, and looks almost as good.  The final space battle recaptures the excitement of attacks on the Death Star’s in the first and third movies, but with better effects.  However, they don’t match the tension of the ticking clock of A New Hope, or the potential despair of Return of the Jedi.  The arrival of the rebel fleet looks spectacular, but doesn’t have the emotional heft of the similarly constructed portals scene from Avengers Endgame, simply because it doesn’t earn it!Luke Stywalker

The real issue goes back to what I mentioned before about no overriding narrative for the trilogy.  Not only is it disjointed as a trilogy, but The Rise of Skywalker has enough plot for a trilogy on its own.  The original Star Wars aka A New Hope is a classic example of a Hero’s journey:

  1. Departure – Luke sets out on adventure prompted by the message held within R2D2
  2. Initiation – Initially refusing the call to adventure, he faces loss and adversity (his first step into the unknown, and the start of his transformation to hero).  He rescues Leia, and faces more loss.
  3. Return – He destroys the Death Star completing his journey and returning to his (new) home.

The beauty of it is that you could break the original trilogy up the same way

  1. Departure – A New Hope – Luke (and friends) rescue the princess and win a battle against a feared enemy .
  2. Initiation – Empire Strikes Back – The group are divided, they face loss and adversity.
  3. Return – Return of the Jedi – The group reunite to fight a final battle before returning home victorious.

Try and fit this film, or this trilogy to that structure, you will be jumping backwards and forwards all over the place, it simply doesn’t fit.  You may be asking why it should?  The reason is simple, that is what Star Wars is, was, and should be.  The origin of the idea goes back to George Lucas wanting to make an epic space adventure like the Saturday Matinees he used to watch as a kit.  He wanted to make Flash Gordon, or Buck Rogers.  Fortunately the rights weren’t available so he had to come up with a new adventure.  Whether intentional or not this classical structure made the story work, it grounded the  fantastical and made it something everyone could understand and more importantly love.  Never underestimate the power of simplicity.

So where does that leave us?  In truth I’m not sure!  The final outcome of the movie is about where you would expect it to be, and probably where it needed to be following the events of The Force Awakens, but could its journey to this end have been better? Almost certainly!  To put it another way, I enjoyed the film and the trilogy, but with reservations.  It could have been better, but the thing I can’t reconcile, does the fact I can see where it should have been better mitigate or enhance the issues?  I just don’t know.  Unlike the Skywalker Saga, this question is:

To Be Continued!

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