(Not a) Rise of Skywalker review

sky1.jpgWell, no I haven’t seen it. Probably won’t until the New Year when the fuss has died down, and even then it might not be until March when the disc comes out. I’m a Star Wars fan from 1977 when I read the Marvel comics (we didn’t get the film here in the UK regions until early 1978). I’ve bought the films on every home format going and seen each one at the cinema until Solo. I’ve bought the soundtracks, wear the tee-shirts. If Disney can’t get my big arse on a cinema seat then somethings very, very wrong in a Galaxy far, far away.

The reviews, some positive, some negative, some indifferent, some absolutely apocalyptic, are pretty much everything I expected from the film. I have little tolerance for the methods of JJ Abrams, whose entire career seems to have been an exercise in polishing up and re-selling the creative genius of others, nor Kathleen Kennedy, a ‘safe’ pair of hands at Lucasfilm who mistook bullet-points and agendas for creative narrative.

Richard over at 100 Films in A Year has posted his review and its pretty typical. He raises a very good observation that the film-makers “forcibly insert bits that seem to exist merely to look good in trailers” which is something that Abrams has been guilty of before. The most telling one I recall is the Enterprise rising out of an ocean in Star Trek Into Darkness. It was totally idiotic (the excuse being the Enterprise was hiding from the native civilisation, when it would have been perfectly hidden up in orbit as it has been for several tv series and movies over the decades) and betrays Abram’s cynical method of putting ‘wow’ moments into his films that serve no narrative function or internal logic at all. First time around it distracts through surprise and spectacle but on repeat viewing it just rankles. Its curious that repeat viewings of his movies seldom go well and a lot of his films (the Star Trek reboots and The Force Awakens in particular) are subject to much revisionary criticism years later- they really don’t age well at all

He’s like some kid smashing all his toys up for the hell of it. The guys appropriates the worlds created by others and joyfully breaks them. Like another example in the same film when Khan transports himself across the galaxy from a shuttle down on Earth to someplace on Klingon, instantly, and immediately negating the need for space ships or FTL travel at all. A smarter hand on the script would have simply had him teleport to a ship waiting in orbit that then warps off to Klingon, a move that would have performed the same narrative function but stayed within established mythology and logic. Which is pretty much the same as that jerk Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi when Holdo jumps into Hyperspace through the First Order flagship and destroys the ship and most of the fleet. Its a big ‘wow’ moment, beautifully executed, certainly the one scene that provoked gasps of surprise and awe, but its also the one in which it broke the world. I wonder how many times in The Rise of Skywalker a situation arises in which had the good guys done the same manoeuvre they could have wiped out Palpatines forces? Or more tellingly, how many times Palpatine could have wiped out the rebel armada by one of his ships doing the same?

Its all very sad. I don’t want any Star Wars film to fail but neither do I want bad storytelling to be rewarded. Lucasfilm clearly had no plan for this sequel trilogy, and while I believe it went wrong from the start with The Force Awakens so cynically remaking A New Hope rather than moving onto new territory, it went doubly wrong letting Rian Johnson then break everything Abrams started with The Force Awakens, I mean, where did they expect the franchise to go after The Last Jedi? I sincerely wish, for all my dislike of The Last Jedi, that Rian Johnson had been left to make the third film and try to conjure up some satisfying conclusion himself. It was too easy and let him off the hook, he took so much pleasure breaking everything with The Last Jedi and he was able to walk away like some triumphant auteur and I almost feel sorry for Abram’s position with this third film. Johnson got away with it and didn’t have to ‘fix’ what he broke.

That all being said, the ultimate failure is surely of Kathleen Kennedy and the heads at Lucasfilm who failed in oversight of the trilogy. Say what you will about the prequels (and they are pretty awful) but Lucas clearly had a narrative arc for them, telling the story of Anakin Skywalker and how he became Darth Vader and the rise of the Empire. I don’t know what the hell this new trilogy was supposed to be about.

In both The Phantom Menace and A New Hope, the audience is informed of the political situation, whether it be of the troubled Republic of the first film or the established positions of the Empire and the resistance in A New Hope. Somehow between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the defeated Empire has arisen as the nonsensical First Order, and instead of the New Republic post-ROTJ defending against the new evil its left to some kind of new bunch of freedom fighters instead. Its never explained how things have turned out how they have or who’s bankrolling the First Order or who the hell Snoke was, except that I gather its ‘explained’ in Rise of Skywalker that it was Palpatine all along. Yeah, the same dude that was blasted by his own force lightning and hurled down into a blazing reactor core subsequently destroyed with its vaporised Death Star- I gather all this is ‘explained’ by the Great Bard Abrams and I don’t know how Palpatine gets defeated/killed in Rise of Skywalker  but I wonder whats stopping the bugger magically resurrecting himself again.

From the start this new trilogy has been lazily written, ill-reasoned, and hell-bent on just rebooting everything from the earlier films whilst arbitrarily ignoring established mythology and internal logic. Every narrative has a beginning, a middle and end with sensical narrative and character arcs, whether it be a single movie or three films telling a whole larger story. Did Lucasfilm start shooting The Force Awakens with no idea where the story went in films two and three? It seems patently obvious this was the case and insanely irresponsible and reckless. They got what they deserved, alienating the core fanbase while they were at it. I’m sure The Rise of Skywalker has it fans and will pass a billion dollars at the box office but I’m pretty confident its a bad movie.

8 thoughts on “(Not a) Rise of Skywalker review

  1. Like yourself I was aware of Star Wars in 1977 and read all the Marvel Comics. Never saw the Film when it came out. Already knew the story.

    Given the 33 year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, I am
    Surprise JJ Abrams chose to ignore the entire mythology that had grown in the the previous three decades and cynically remade New Hope, without even considering either basing Episode 7 somewhere in that timeline or beyond it. He just ignored so much continuity and history, not to mention fans as well.

    Abrams kind of got away with Episode 7. As for Episode 8, you have already gone there which shows you are a braver man than I.

    The only Star Wars Film I actually enjoyed post-Empire Strikes Back was the prequel movie to New Hope, Rogue One.

    Says it all really.

    1. I agree with you regards Rogue One, it has had some criticism but I’m not sure why- its the most ‘Star Wars’ movie since TESB. I’d love to have seen a whole trilogy like that.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    This would play a lot better if you’d actually seen the movie. If you’re over Star Wars now because you’re disappointed with the recent entries, then why waste time complaining about them (again!) in response to… a movie you haven’t seen? It’s weird.

    I just watched it. It’s entertaining, and the hurried, paper-over-the-cracks script didn’t make me feel bad because *it’s just Star Wars! The SW movies of the last 40 years have been uneven and sloppily written and shoddily constructed and full of loose ends and contradictions.

    So there’s another one like that? Big deal. I laughed a lot, and felt sad in places and was completely dazzled by the visuals. I’m happy enough with that because 40 years of low expectations will make you a bit more realistic.

  3. Low expectations don’t mean I should necessarily cut the film any slack. Of all the Star Wars films, only two are genuinely great- the original and then Empire. Jedi was disappointing, even in 1983, with the second Death Star too close to the original and the fall of the Empire feeling too sudden, almost unearned. Later we’d learn that Lucas, suffering personal problems in the ‘Real World’, had simply had enough and wanted to cut it loose.

    Technical advances eventually proved a temptation he couldn’t resist, so Lucas did his Special Editions (arguably not improving the films at all) and then launched into his prequels, which didn’t tell the story we actually all wanted (his choice, of course) and just amounting to long effects reels that were destined to age badly

    The thing is though, as someone who grew up with Star Wars, many of us got a (unhealthy?) but powerful emotional connection with those early films, the characters, the music… the films are almost more than films, they are icons of pop culture. Maybe they weren’t motion picture classics in the literal Citizen Kane/Lawrence of Arabia sense, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important or that the new Star Wars films can’t be that great in better hands. I actually thought Lucas selling the Lucasfilm to Disney was a good thing and very promising for the future.Empire after all proved great almost inspite of Lucas, and him retaking control hurt the following films.

    The Disney films have been extremely disappointing, mostly because they are symptomatic of so many films now, with hacks like Abrams being so oddly popular with studios and audiences. Sure you can argue its ‘just’ Star Wars, especially with how poor the majority of the films have been, but I’d argue that because its Star Wars, they should be better, greater. They shouldn’t be such broken, ill-thought and contradictory, ham-fisted films forming a trilogy that is anything but a trilogy.

    No doubt I’ll write a proper review when I eventually watch it (curiosity is sure to get the better of me eventually) but I certainly feel entitled from what I’ve seen and heard of it write a post about it. The film is predictably making lots of money (although the second and third weeks will prove most telling) so Disney are winning in the short-term at least,There will be more Star Wars, and I hope they will be better Star Wars, with a different and better creative team behind them.

    Imagine my ire had BR2049 been made by a hack like Abrams. I’d have been beyond unbearable and my blog would have had a meltdown. Star Wars is one thing, Blade Runner quite another. Thank goodness for Villenueve and a creative team/studio that knew what they were doing with the material/mythology they were playing with. Next years Dune should be something absolutely amazing, but I can’t help express my wish that the new Star Wars was as good as what Dune should prove to be. I mean,why not? The creative team, clearly, who somehow made Star Wars as lousy as those abysmal prequels. Who’d have guessed? Anyone who’d seen that Star Trek reboot, maybe?

  4. I reckon they embarked on this new trilogy with the thinking “George made it all up as he went along in 1977-83, and look how that turned out, so let’s do the same again!” But they didn’t count on (a) that a lot of the love for Jedi comes from association with its predecessors rather than its inherent quality (I don’t hate it, and I even like things like the Ewoks, but it’s clearly the weakest of the OT); or (b) that audience sophistication has evolved a lot in the intervening four decades. The inconsistencies and whatnot of Episodes IV-VI, we let slide; nowadays, we expect things to hang together. And heck, even if Lucas did make it up as he went along, he managed to make it look like there was a clear, unifying vision (the redemption of Vader) — here, they were so concerned with making it feel like Episode 9, they forgot to make it Sequel Trilogy Episode 3.

    Anyway, now I’m going to read your other two posts about it and probably remember some more reasons why I hated it! (I don’t know why I gave it 3 stars — it should’ve been 2. Maybe when I inevitably rewatch it I’ll see the good again, who knows.)

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