There’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.
I 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.
But 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.