Actually a Rise of Skywalker review

rise1There’s a story going around that Rise of Skywalker was deliberately sabotaged by Disney in order to damage the reputation and career of its director, JJ Abrams, in order to thereby impact his future career/contract with Warner Bros, whose DC franchise is a direct rival to Disney’s own Marvel Studios franchise. That’s a conspiracy theory stupider than anything in this movie, which is saying something.

Its clearly some kind of attempt to excuse the true horror of a film so ineptly made as this one proves to be, and barring the inevitable NDAs that will cloud the truth, someday there will hopefully be a great book investigating the making of this film, and the two that preceded it.  I’d be fascinated to see the hows and whys that this film turned out so bad as it has done; while I’m confident much of it is due to the reactionary response to the misguided hubris that brought us The Last Jedi, I’m also certain that there was all sorts of meddling and politics going on behind the scenes that the panic  is in everything we see in this pretty dire film. Rumours prior to its release described six different endings, and the film is so disjointed, uneven and badly paced that I can well believe those multiple endings truly existed.

It seems a textbook case of how not to make a Hollywood blockbuster, and certainly how not to make a Star Wars movie – alarmingly for Disney however, it does also seem familiar with the story behind  the making of Solo, and its strange that the lessons behind that film don’t seem to have been learned. Change of director, lack of cohesive narrative, rushed production, numerous re-shoots… its really no surprise, but all the same, you’d have thought that Lucasfilm would have figured all this shit out.

Certainly its a lesson of how not to make a trilogy. A story goes that original director Colin Trevorrow had wanted Luke Skywalker alive in order for him to feature in the final movie and had begged The Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson to allow the character survive that film which is an example of the lack of a cohesive narrative across the three films as a whole. I guess Rian was so obsessed with usurping all the fanboy expectations and series tropes that he was hellbent on killing Luke. It is strange though- after Luke’s hologram/Force projection shenanigans there would have been no harm in just closing the film with him exhausted back in his Jedi hideout rather than abruptly fading away, especially if the third film’s director felt a live Luke was necessary for his film. No wonder Trevorrow walked.

So anyway, I went to see Rise of Skywalker expecting little, and even those expectations proved to be unrewarded. Inevitably spoilers follow, but I assume after so many weeks everyone who wants to see the film has done so by now.

rise3.jpgI don’t particularly enjoy being taken for an idiot, but it happens sometimes when watching movies and tv shows. Its when willing suspension of disbelief is just taken a step too far and I suddenly feel like I’m being taken for a fool, when the filmmakers just don’t give a toss and obviously anything goes, and to hell with internal logic or common sense.

It happened quite a few times during Rise of Skywalker. God knows my bar was set pretty low. Sure, its only Star Wars. Its a silly space fantasy. Its never going to be Kubrickian, or even anything akin to Ridley Scott’s increasingly irrelevant Alien prequels or the pompous silliness of James Camerons Dance with Wolves in Space Avatar. This is JJ Abrams. You’re not supposed to think with JJ Abrams stuff, its all smoke and mirrors with pacing so quick you won’t have time to consider what you’re seeing, you’re just supposed to go with it in the moment. Its only afterwards when you’re walking out that you begin to realise you were had. If the Jedi can heal the wounded or dying, or indeed bring back the dead to life, why didn’t Obi-Wan heal Qui-Gon Jinn in the Phantom Menace, or Luke Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, or Anakin his mother in Revenge of the Sith?  Abram’s talent for ignoring and breaking established mythology of course has a precedent in his Star Trek reboots.

But there’s one moment. One moment when my jaw literally dropped. I’d read most of the spoilers, and being forewarned, most of the films crass stupidity didn’t upset me as much as it might have otherwise (God only knows what this film was like for fans on opening weekend), but there was one moment when I just stared at the screen slack-jawed in amazement, dumbfounded.

If you’ve seen the film, you probably know what the moment is. Its when Rey is on the cliff side looking out at the wrecked ruins of the second Death Star resting out on the storm-tossed ocean. She gets out this Sith dagger that has been their quest for half the movie, and its supposed to be a clue to finding the second of two Wayfinders with which they can find their way to the resurrected Emperor Palpatines Hidden Base, and one of these Wayfinders is in a closet on this Death Star, somewhere.

Now at this point I’m okay with this Wayfinder nonsense, because my bar is set really pretty damned low with this movie. Palpatine has a Hidden Base on a secret Sith Homeworld that isn’t on any starchart, but he’s conveniently left two devices (why two? well why not?) with which someone (or some two) can find this Hidden Base and scupper his plans for ‘Galactic Domination from  beyond the grave’. Just how secret a Sith Homeworld can be when it needs a minimum of 20 million people to crew his 100-500 Star Destroyer (and God knows how many to build them), is frankly debatable. But go with it, its only Star Wars. The central plotline for the film is that the Rebels have just sixteen hours to find a way to the Emperors base and do something about his armada of Certain Death. After thirty-plus years of keeping his existence a secret, you’d think Palpatine would have managed an extra sixteen hours and unleashed his armada in secret.

rise2But anyway, Rey holds out her arm and the edge of the weirdly-shaped blade suddenly matches the exact same shape of the Death Star wreckage (my mouth’s dropping at this point) and then, incredibly, she pulls out of the handle this other curved piece of metal that lines up and points to a specific point of the wreck- ‘x’ literally marks the spot and my jaw is on the floor. This is beyond stupid. This is something of another order of bad writing entirely. Someone will make a study group in a future screenwriting course that will examine this film in its entirety and perhaps highlight this moment as some barometer of screenplay stupidity to measure all films after.

So lets get this straight. This blade is decades old (the dagger was used, a flashback assures us, to kill Rey’s parents years ago) but presumably was designed and crafted by someone standing in this exact same spot in order to match the outline of the wreck and thus display where the room is in that wreck which contains the Wayfinder. If someone stood someplace else on this coastline overlooking the wreck, it would neither match the wreckage or point to the same spot. Even if one stood a few metres either side, nevermind the kilometres of random coastline or so that is quite clearly visible in the same frame, it just wouldn’t serve its purpose.

In anycase, its a Sith blade, owned/designed/made by a Sith who knows where the Wayfinder is but presumably doesn’t need to use it to find the Sith Homeworld else he would have taken the Wayfinder for himself, and the existence/location of said Homeworld is a secret so what exactly is its purpose? A Sith dude forges a blade that reveals the Wayfinder so that someone who shouldn’t have the Wayfinder (i.e. a Good Guy) can find that Wayfinder and oh my head hurts. Or the Death Star exploded and various bits of wreckage crashed down to this moon and landed in the ocean in just that particular shape and configuration that it just somehow matches the edge of this blade and… oh my head hurts. Another thing, are we expected to believe that back during Return of the Jedi, Palpatine’s schemes were already afoot and that he kept that Wayfinder safe in that closet in his throne room because he already knew he had to leave a clue on this Death Star (which would survive both the explosion and a fall from orbit) in order for someone to find his hidden base decades later? Or that Darth Vader knew nothing about this and couldn’t warn Luke  before he died that that evil critter Palpatine was probably still alive and that Luke should search for the Sith Homeworld for the sake of future generations of film-goers… oh my head hurts.

Its staggeringly stupid, and now that I think about it, possibly not the stupidest thing in the movie. I think Han Solo returning ranks pretty highly, or Chewbacca being dead/not dead or… well, I could be writing this for hours, I think. ‘The Dead Speak!‘ opening the title crawl ranks pretty high, I mean, they didn’t even think that the return of Palpatine merited some mystery/tension- it’d be a bit like the opening crawl of The Empire Strikes Back revealing that Vader is Luke’s dad right at the start. Can’t they construct a decent script /tense narrative anymore?

I really didn’t expect much from this film but even those expectations were ill-founded. I watched the film with my brother who hated it with a passion (he knew no spoilers so he lacked the forewarning that cushioned my pain) and the people in-front of us broke into embarrassed laughter when Kylo climbed out the pit to resurrect Rey and share that kiss.

The pacing is horrible. It is so much like two films in one and I can actually sympathise with JJ Abrams initial wish to split the film into two like the final Hunger Games and Harry Potter films. There’s just to much story to tell and wrap up, and too many Rian Johnson cock-ups to fix/retcon. Its really relentless how fast it races by and how it resolutely refuses to make any sense at all. That editing terribly hurts the film- it rather feels unfinished, frankly like a workprint. Considering my low expectations, its a very disappointing movie. Even the space battles feel tired and few visual effects or action scenes seem well-executed or impressive.

Its almost inexplicable that this film has been released like this. Oh well. I guess the campaign for a longer directors cut is inevitable at this point. Not that I expect it to happen, or fix anything, but really its pretty bizarre for such a major motion picture release that fans should start a campaign to fix a clearly broken movie.

I’m sure there are some that enjoy the film and think its great- they are wrong, obviously- but I can’t say I’m surprised  how bad this film is, considering how much The Last Jedi fouled things up and having Abrams at the helm. Perhaps its a pity Trevorrow couldn’t have stuck around, and had a live Luke to feature in the film: this was doomed from the start, it would seem, and Rian Johnson remains the real villain of the Skywalker saga.

8 thoughts on “Actually a Rise of Skywalker review

  1. Tom

    Welp, that was every bit as entertaining a rant as I could have hoped for. No offense at all here, but these are the moments when I’m truly glad I’m not a big time supporter of Franchise A and Movie B. I just can’t care that much about retconned plots and logical gaps and stuff like that. I go to Star Wars, Marvel movies, James Bond etc to be entertained and to not work for that entertainment. Lol. If it succeeds in that, I walk away happy. But I see the other side, too. I did feel The Last Jedi was an odd concoction but I actually had a lot of fun with it (the less said about General Leia flying through space like Mary Fucking Poppins, the better). I’ve really embraced this new set of characters. I love Daisy Ridley. But again, I’m a layperson at best on these movies. What do I really know? Oooh! Pretty colors! Things moving fast! Neat!

    1. I envy you your detachment Tom, but I’ve too much baggage and far too many years (I first saw Star Wars i the cinema in 1978 when I was just twelve) to not take things a little too personally regards these movies. Sure much of it is rose-tinted glasses but I’m sure some films make an emotional connection in you too? The whole reason we watch movies is that we fall in love with some of them. Money corrupts all and while it would be stupid of me to think that the 1977 Star Wars was not about making money it was also about making a good movie and that’s where some of the magic has been lost. That and me getting me older, true.

      That being said, I do think that studios and film-makers (and to some extent the public) have lost the point somewhat. TESB, for instance, was quite simple. It took us to just three worlds (Hoth, Dagobah and Bespin) and had just a few action sequences (Battle of Hoth, The Asteroid Field chase and the Vader/Luke light-sabre fight) and was otherwise slow-paced and had character moments. Rise of Skywalker jumps from planet to planet and has several action sequences and culminates in a space battle which is just plain boring and a conflict between Rey and Emperor that hardly impresses either. There is no context, no drama. Just convenient coincidences and apparently random occurrences that are largely nonsensical. Its far too fast-paced, rushing along heedlessly. I think films just need to reign it all in, slow things down, reduce the hysterics. Make more sense.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I’m actually with Tom on this.

        I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, pretty much from start to finish. It was spectacular and funny and breathlessly entertaining, and that’s what Star Wars is about. I’ll go with Scorsese’s fairground ride analogy, only in a positive way. Do you ever step off a rollercoaster and question its internal logic?

        Yes, it’s absolutely a trainwreck of colliding ideas and corporate mandates and things that weren’t set up properly finally running up against brick walls of bad storytelling – I’d never try to deny that. But even going in as I did with low expectations I still found it… massively entertaining.

        I’m glad of that, because it very handily put my thoughts about SW into perspective: it does not support any of the expectations people place on it. It really doesn’t. I’ve never been crazy about it overall: it’s just that because I’m interested in space movies and SF generally talking about SW is something I can do easily the way football fans can discuss the game at large endlessly, even stuff that doesn’t involve their own team. But I don’t care enough, even with nostalgia pulling strings, to get that worked up about it.

        Right from the off it’s been a ragbag of crowbarred-together bits and pieces in the service of a fun watch. That people keep pointing to ESB as if it were The Godfather II or something, when it’s a hugely uneven movie with a very odd sense of pacing and long boring stretches featuring a muppet spouting cod-philosophy… er, OK then.
        It was mostly fun to watch though. So it did it’s job.

        So yes, it would have been nice for Lucasfilm to have begun a series of films with some clue of where they were going*, but I don’t think it’s worth getting that irate about because I had two and a half fun times at the movies (TFA flags after a perfect opening 30 minutes), and a one fun time with some actually surprises. Job done for me. I’m actually glad I came out feeling that way, because I’d rather like something that’s supposed to be enjoyed than not. Again, I’m not arguing with any of the film’s problems: I’m just happy to step back from getting angry about them. Because I actually honestly liked and enjoyed it.

        As a footnote, it seems an odd bit of business that you’re blaming Rian Johnson even for this movie’s choices. He gave the next film-makers a blank slate, a fresh starting point without all the looming plot points that needed tying up and that made ROTJ such a slog. They could have gone anywhere. But didn’t.

        Also, Trevorrow didn’t walk in protest, he was fired because his last movie was dreadful: Lucasfilm realised late in the day that he was a poor writer and director and cut him loose.

        *People keep pointing to the prequels as though they’re some sort of newly-discovered Holy Grail of storytelling because Lucas had a very rough overall idea of where those three films were going. But they were shambolic and terribly written as well, so what good does that do you?

        In other news: did you finish Watchmen? I liked it very much when it was about the new characters, but when it started getting all Dr Manhattan I think it lost its way badly.

      2. Tom

        There’s no denying I have had this experience. Don’t even talk to me about the Jurassic World sequels. I will go into a blind rage if anyone tries defending those inexorable POS’s. I kick, and I bite. 😀

        So, absolutely I do feel your pain. JW totally botched the whole spirit of what Spielberg created in the ’90s. It’s turned into an actual theme park attraction where (much like the new breed of Star Wars, for sure) things just have to be exploding, getting destroyed, falling apart — something has to be happening ALL THE TIME — for the benefit of increasing ADD-captive audiences. (I blame social media and smart phones for a lack of attention span, not studios.) Those movies became soulless. I feel like the new Star Wars movies are definitely more held hostage to the modern trend of being bigger, flashier, noisier, but I still find a lot of soul in them. But. give me a few years and I’m sure with hindsight I’ll see just how short the sequel trilogy ultimately stacks up in the face of the originals. The original Star Wars has really become one of my all-time favorite movies. That movie is a drug to me. So, perhaps give me some time. We’ll maybe share the same pain soon enough haha!

  2. gregory moss

    Great review/rant, Ian! I’m just glad this whole excruitiatingly drawn-out three-picture trainwreck is finally over – and I can get back to my life and never have to think about it ever again – like, ever. 🙂

    1. Well I’d waited since Wednesday to write my review, so what might have been a Biblical rant had mellowed somewhat, but yeah, at least Disney have gotten that whole Eps 7 – 9 thing done and can move onto other things within that Star Wars universe. In hindsight, perhaps they would have been best going down that anthology movies route from the off, and perhaps gone back to Eps 7 – 9 later when they were comfortable with the Star Wars ‘thing’ but I can understand the initial ‘lets carry on the saga’ thing they thought they had to do.

  3. The thing that gets me about the whole “it’s like two films crammed into one because it’s got so much plot it has to cover” complaint is that… it doesn’t “have” to cover that plot. Almost all of it is MacGuffin chasing they’ve made up for themselves. If there were fewer MacGuffins to run around after, there’d be less faff. It’s got nothing to do with what Rian Johnson did or didn’t leave them to work with — they set up these mysteries/problems themselves and then have to spend time solving them.

    I also agree with what Matthew said about how Johnson ended Last Jedi. Some people seem to think it closed everything off and left Episode 9’s makers with absolutely nothing to work with. I think exactly the opposite — there’s plenty of threads left to pick up on, they’re just open-ended, meaning an intelligent storyteller can forge off in a new direction with them. For examples: Kylo and Hux were still out there, presumably in charge of the whole First Order now that Snoke is dead. The Resistance were diminished and needed to regroup — obviously, they would, but how and in what form is the suggested story. Rey has just begun to realise the extent of her power. Plus, the fact she isn’t (wasn’t) tied to any legacy suggested some kind of storyline that moves the universe on from the dominance of the Skywalker bloodline. What more definitive ending to the Skywalker Saga could one ask for, actually? So, I think there were plenty of places to go with all that 8 left hanging. Maybe it wasn’t immediately obvious exactly where to go with it, but that’s almost the point of The Last Jedi‘s style — “let’s not just remake the same movies again; let’s try to expand this story in new directions”. The real shame is the Abrams went “no thanks, I want to remake Empire and Jedi, actually.”

  4. Pingback: The 2020 list: January – the ghost of 82

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