Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the Transformers movie equivalent of a Star Wars film. It fell into itself and didn’t want to change anything. It clings to the basic premise of Star Wars, which is fine, and doesn’t let go for anything or any reason, which is frustrating. This might be Star Wars at its worst, which is afraid to be anything you haven’t seen before.
Star Wars, cinematically, is an echo. Everything rhymes. “It’s like poetry” said George Lucas once. Everything Star Wars is here: the Force, X-Wings, Star Destroyers, Sith, Jedi, lightsabres, etc. Empire big strong and then the underdog Rebels pull a John Cena to a victory. That’s where the movie becomes frustrating because that’s all the movie is, again. We saw that in Episode VII and in Episode VIII.
That’s to be expected. The Lord of the Rings movies are fantastic and every movie ends with the heroes winning over evil. The key difference is that it feels earned; every movie ups the stakes and increases the grandeur in a way that makes sense step by step.
Was Episode VII – The Force Awakens good? Sure it was. Don’t pretend it’s a bad movie. Call it unimaginative if you want, but it was a safe and entertaining blockbuster that made you interested in what Star Wars could be again. You can go back and watch it and enjoy how it brought a charismatic cast together, planted seeds, had some mystery, did the big stuff and was enjoyable. Probably as good a reboot as you would get.
Was Episode VIII – The Last Jedi good? It was fine. It did some stuff that was interesting, had pointless side plots, some frustrating character choices and decisions (maybe the Rebellion really likes to watch Suits in space). For everything good, it did something a bit whatever and a few things just plain blargh. If that movie ends after the back-to-back fight on a cliff hanger then everyone is probably thinking of it relatively favourably. But it didn’t, oh well. However, it gets worse because of what follows.
Is Episode IX – Rise of Skywalker good? Eh… your mileage may vary. How much are you into wanking off to nostalgia, hectic action, 1+1=2 plot, frustrating character decisions and insane pacing? I can’t get away from thinking the movie was just frustrating. I’m not mad or sad. I’m not giddy. Depending on which 5 minute span of the movie I was watching I would go from enjoyment to indifference to annoyance or displeasure. But I know that after it ended, the conclusion to the 9 movie 40 year Skywalker arc, I wasn’t satisfied.
The worst thing movie’s can do is waste potential because that can make an okay movie bad. A bad movie is just bad and you know its bad. But leaving an okay movie that could have been more feels worse because your brain is telling you “That should have been better.”
I didn’t know a movie could make me appreciate Avengers: Endgame as a film more than I already did. Imagine if Infinity War and Endgame were condensed into one two hour movie. No scene has the time to sink in. There’s barely been a pause in dialogue before the scene is transitioned and someone else somewhere else completely is talking. It’s like it was edited on TikTok.
There’s so few moments where things move at a “normal” pace that when it does happen it feels almost jarring that a “normally” paced scene is occurring. But then you take in the normally paced scene and enjoy it just to get discombobulated right after by another hectic, lightspeed mess.
Plot threads IN THIS FILM are literally being dropped from scene to scene. Something will be brought up and then 15 minutes, or less, after someone says the cinematic equivalent of “Oh that? Doesn’t matter. Forget about it, please.”
There are moments and decisions that should be Big Things that happen so quickly that the movie feels like a TV edit. There are other times where the weight of a decision is completely negated or becomes inconsequential almost immediately after it happens. Characters are making turns and decisions so quickly that you feel like someone off screen is tapping their watch saying “Wrap it up” like Monica during Phoebe’s wedding speech.
So many scenes could have been so much more if they were given more time, but you travel across like 6 planets in less than 90 minutes. When scenes don’t have the time or weight to happen “properly” then you forget about them. Moments don’t become memorable otherwise.
There’s a scene where they straight up pull it from a WW2 movie with Nazi SS dudes doing door to door raids and stuff. The Rebels have to sneak about to find a macguffin and avoid the First Order. That could have been 20 minutes with a lot of tension and pressure. Instead it was like 10 minutes and it ends on what feels like a whim. And it was the second time they landed on Planet Convenience in a row.
Characters will face down something that appears harrowing, say “we gotta climb the big thing”, “wow that’s gonna be tough”, and then it just cuts to them at the top of the harrowing big thing. Usually this kind of stuff goes: Introduce an issue, struggle with issue, solve it. Instead we get: introduce a thing, solve it immediately, move on. It’s like a chain of fetch quests in a video game.
You would think a director who is also a fanboy of Star Wars, in JJ Abrams, would understand these things. He did these things pretty well in his Star Trek reboot. He got emotion and excitement right in those movies.
I can’t help but feel that JJ Abrams was the angry fan who walked out of The Last Jedi with a wet diaper. There’s such a feeling of “Episode VIII didn’t happen! Episode IX is the REAL VIII and IX at the same time!” There are moments that feel like actual middle fingers to the previous film to the point you could probably just watch Episode VII and go to Episode IX just off the pre-scroll.
I just want to vent for a bit about Kylo Ren and Rey, and their relationship. There may be a few spoilers from here out but we’re talking about a movie from 2019 in 2021, so…
Kylo Ren, portrayed by Adam Driver, is the best part of the movie, again. He deserves so much more than this movie for his acting. He carried this franchise. He’s the closest to feeling like a real movie person across three movies, where other characters are all over the place due to the lack of foresight from page one or they’re almost entirely static.
Daisy Ridley is perfectly fine as Rey. But the issue is Rey. Rey gets to do everything for free. Our other big Force characters always took an L where they screwed up, but came out the other side as a better character:
- Anakin lost an arm because he was too cocky, then he became a robot because had an unstoppable boner.
- Luke lost a hand because he was too brazen and didn’t take his training seriously.
- Obi-Wan lost his mentor and didn’t listen to his better judgment and it led to Darth Vader.
- Kylo Ren is suffering from the galaxy’s biggest case of imposter syndrome after his Uncle tried to murder him in his sleep.
These are important because to round out a character they need to take a loss. Aragorn took an L in Lord of the Rings. Tony Stark took some L’s as Iron Man. Rey gives up a late goal but always scores it right back to win.
She might not win clean, but she’s basically John Cena when John Cena couldn’t lose a match for like 10 years. She’s Hulk Hogan from the 80s. I don’t consider her a Mary Sue, but I get why people say she is now when I didn’t really hold that belief before.
Her biggest trauma relates to her parents (fair enough), but she’s never gets her Big Loser moment to teach her a lesson. Not that I’m trying to neckbeard here, but there’s a moment that could have been her “oh my god I effed up” but like 12 seconds later they go “no it’s okay”. She’s never had to come back from a big mistake that changes her. That’s… boring.
It makes it even worse when the movie climaxes and she kisses Kylo Ren. The kiss sucks. It wasn’t about good and bad meeting and the whole world is grey.
Kylo Ren is shown to be a paranoid-schizophrenic with a hunger for violence and anger problems that have stunted his maturity to the point that he has had different Big Evil’s doing his thinking since he was a teenager when he became an intergalactic Neo-Nazi. He has tried to kill the Rebels more times than you can count and has killed enough of them, and innocents, to make Stalin feel inadequate.
His first encounter with Rey begins with him torturing her for information and he’s relentlessly antagonized her for a couple years now by killing her friends, blowing up planets and doing his best to manipulate her at every turn.
He’s basically happily killed both his parents. He is in no position to be in a relationship with anybody. No matter what you feel about him, he is in no position to be in a relationship with anyone. Especially not the equivalent of a Force using demi-god with her own abandonment issues with big time force powers she can’t even control.
But apparently torturing her left a good first impression. Killing her friends and tons of randoms and innocent civilians was also okay and cool and forgivable. Killing his dad was fine. Being hell-bent on destroying almost your entire resistance was okay.
Screw it. Maybe they deserve each other.
Just about everyone else in the movie is useless and don’t really matter but they get B plots that are easily solvable so they can kill time while the headliners do their thing because if you don’t have The Force Juice you don’t matter in Star Wars.
If you’re going to spend 4 billion dollars on a media property famous for trilogies, lore and the expanded universe then perhaps plan your new trilogy out in advance. It doesn’t need to be scripted to the second, but setting up plot threads and then doing nothing with them because you had no plan is so painfully WWE.
Movie universes shouldn’t struggle and fail this often. What Marvel is doing, and to a lesser extent Legendary with the Godzilla and Kong movies, isn’t terribly difficult. Plan it out, have patience, execute it.
You can understand DC stumbling because it took them four years to realize they couldn’t do six years of build in three films. You get why the Dark Universe bumbled, because they couldn’t contain themselves and wanted to go big right away. Sony’s Spider-Man world failed in the exact same way. You can’t hit the gym twice and then hope to hit world record numbers on a deadlift.
But you would have thought Star Wars, a Disney property, would have been able to knock on the Marvel, a Disney property, door next door and get such simple advice as “yeah try to at least sorta plan things out and stick to that.” It’s like they went and knocked on the Fox’s X-Men door, a Disney property, and got their advice from them.
Or maybe the guy who wrote Batman v Superman isn’t the best choice for cohesion in your climactic film.
The Last Jedi was not perfect, but it did do like four great things: Rey being a nobody, Old Man Luke not living up to the myth, Kylo talking to Rey about “Jedi and Sith are both dumb. What if we did our own thing?” and posing the question of “Maybe anyone can tap into the force/be a hero?”
This movie pretty will dumps on all of those: Rey is important and always has been like Harry Potter-Aragorn-Anakin. Luke wasn’t tired, he’s actually silly like puppet Yoda now. Then “actually the Jedi are good and right and the Sith are pure evil and wrong. There is no merit to the Jedi having their issues as well.” And absolutely no way can anyone be a hero. Only people from basically two families are allowed to be heroes.
One of the worst ways to handle something that is potentially cool is by going “Look how cool this could be?” and then going “Nope. That isn’t cool and you’re bad for wanting something like it” because now you’ve gone and split your audience further.
Rise of Skywalker is so desperate to course correct on The Last Jedi that in their attempts to make you forget about it that it instead makes it so you can’t forget about The Last Jedi at all.
I do want to say that I feel the amount of freedom Disney supposedly gave Rian Johnson for Episode VIII was overstated as a lame attempt to satisfy people through post-film PR – I’m basing this off the weird shifts in tone and the extraneous forth act and how they fit the film compared to Rian Johnson’s other work.
But maybe you hated The Last Jedi for perfectly good reasons and you feel this actually did things right. I don’t know. I feel this movie bashes as much “established Star Wars” with a hammer just as much. However, I get the feeling that cinematic Star Wars has just reached fan apathy level.
Cinematic Star Wars is just so weird. You have so many people, that call themselves huge fans and maybe they are or maybe they’re “fans” for the hustle, that seem like they’re always racing each other to see who can hate it more. Who can be the most contrarian? Who has the hottest take that they can back with the most nerd cred?
It’s just so weird to see Nerd Media become the behemoth it has where you get the same level of tribalism and viciousness that have been present in sports and politics for years. You get the feeling from the discourse that most of the most vocal fans don’t even like it, but that feeling of not liking it also fuels them to keep not liking it while staying engaged with it.
For what it is worth, the movie does look great. I love the lightsaber battles in the new trilogy. They aren’t swinging glow sticks and breakdancing, but they’re a bit more involved than a classic style sword duel that more resemble pirate movies from the original trilogy. They swing the swords like they have weight and like they’re really exerting themselves.
The cinematography is great. It’s a well shot movie that’s colour coded well so you understand where you are, even if you don’t know where you are. It isn’t completely devoid of creativity. You get all your classic Star Wars shots and iconography. It’s all here and that part is still pretty cool and backed by a traditional and excellent score.
The character designs and props are always a high point. Maybe its one of the reason’s that Star Wars relies so hard on its own iconography, because its that good: Storm Troopers look good, black bad guy looks good, white good girl looks good, scrappy Rebel outfits look good, the X-Wing and the Millenium Falcon are wicked designs. “Show, don’t tell” as a rule has been a strength of Star Wars for the better part of it’s existence.
The themes, as repetitive as they’ve become, are still strong. Anyone can stand up to oppression. Maybe it’s ten people but maybe then its twenty people, then fifty and then you’ve started a revolution. There will always be resistance to tyranny. That’s good and especially in 2021 its a really prevalent message.
In the end, the worst thing Big Hollywood can do is be average. This movie is average. Did I complain a lot? Yes. Did I enjoy myself? Kinda. Would I recommend this? I guess but not really.
I’m just sour because the potential of this series declined at an exponential rate and that’s a bummer. Fantasy movies are cool. Space movies are cool. Fantasy space movies should be really cool.
I was just hoping for something slightly new creatively. A slightly different take on things that avoided wanking itself off with the nostalgia glove. It’s just a very predictable movie that never catches you off guard, subverts your expectations in a good way or satisfies the obvious outcome either.
This is the finale. The Finale. The finale to a nine movie arc (ten if you want Rogue One in here). This is the cap to Star Wars as people know it. The end. The big climax to it all. But it just piddles itself out with a sloppy landing.
At some point we’ll be into Episode X, XI and XII and everyone will be excited again. People have started looking back at the prequels and think they’re good movies for some reason. In 10-20 years I’m sure the same will happen here. Everyone cheered like crazy for The Last Jedi. Then they hated it. But then everyone rushed right back in for Rise of Skywalker only to hate it. People couldn’t keep their pants on for The Mandalorian but I’ve even seen some people start to poo poo that.
Maybe the best thing this set of Star Wars films did was get so mad at Rian Johnson that they kicked him out, and he responded by making Knives Out. Go watch that. It’s great.