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Movie Review – Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker (spoiler free)

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Star Wars: millennium falcon, rey, chewy, chewie, poe, finn
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So. It’s done. After 42 years of buildup, the Star Wars Skywalker saga is over.  I liked it! But I didn’t LOVE it. Which is okay, as all I wanted for Christmas was for Rise of Skywalker to not suck. So I can happily say that Director JJ Abrams did his best to undo the problems he inherited from Director Rian Johnson from The Last Jedi. It’s good, all good: happy beeps only.

No spoilers in this review. I’ll save that for another article: read on, fear-free!

Good, goooooood… (What I liked)

YAY: the characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe had great scenes together, and interacted as a team again, recalling the classic trio of Luke, Han, and Leia. I was happy with the dialog, the humor, the friendships, and how the story used these characters.

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Kylo Ren was a bit short-changed, but I liked his scenes when we got them. The split screen saber fights were brilliant. You’ll understand when you see them. What a novel storytelling device.

We had great droid stuff too. Threepio was very funny, and even poignant at one point. Looks like after nine films they figured out how to use the protocol droid properly.

The mystery of Rey? That was fine. It was one of my guesses (although not one I found appealing, just sort of inevitable). We find out about Snoke (another theory I had was right there too). Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship was…well, put to bed. 😉

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We find out a lot of things I hoped would be addressed. Whatever plot threads are left dangling (especially where Maz got Luke’s saber, why the lightsaber went to Rey instead of Kylo in TFA, and why the Millennium Falcon was owned by Rey’s caretaker on Jakku) will probably be addressed in the canon novels Lucasfilm churns out. That’s fine. There was a lot of ground to cover in RoS.

Fun cameos that didn’t feel “forced”

There were also some lovely cameos, and the movie paid a tasteful tribute throughout to the late Carrie Fisher. She got first billing in the credits, to which I say: “Awwwww.” Apparently all the scenes with our princess was actually her, with unused footage from The Force Awakens (and likely a body double for some shots). There was one quick de-aged moment with CGI, but I thought it looked good. So no complaints there.

There was also a sweet scene with Chewbacca that was waaaaay overdue. I’ll let you guess this one. Think about it and you’ll probably foresee it. Just…nice.

Seriously, if you keep your eyes open, you’ll find a lot of old characters in blink-and-you-miss-them scenes. I’m thinking the rewatchability factor will be high. Lots of great throw-away lines, too, if you listen.

Moreover, there is a very touching moment during the battle that I won’t spoil for you. Is the Rebellion conquered? Who’s left to fight?

Great set pieces

One thing all three movies in the sequel trilogy did right was with moving, beautiful visuals. To not spoil anything, I’m going to be vague here: there was something on a moon that we instantly recognized, and it looked both menacing and gorgeous.

We also went to some planets we’ve seen before, and you could tell everything was lovingly filmed. In each sequel episode, including The Last Jedi, the visuals are carefully crafted for beauty shots and an impressive sense of nostalgia that didn’t come across as cheap fan-service. The RoS space battle wasn’t bad either, although somehow the best space war was in Return of the Jedi, so long ago.

This happens. The T-1000 Terminator effects in the 90s was somehow better than the brand-new whatever Terminator this year that looked like tar and failed to impress. I don’t understand why old — OLD — movies have better effects than new ones, but I’ll blame laziness, since that’s a nice, easy (and lazy) complaint.

Warning: If you managed to not get spoiled for Rise of Skywalker, don’t watch this teaser trailer about the 9th and final Skywalker Saga film. Just don’t watch anything until you see the film (do a media blackout entirely). There’s a handful of things here that you might prefer to be surprised about: 

Some stuff just didn’t work

The big villain here is a mess. I didn’t need to see that particular character again. Everything with that person is…stupid. Boring. I guess I get where Abrams was going with it — coming full circle — but WHY WHY. Arg. I so want to discuss this here, but I’ll save it for my Spoiler Review. I will add this: the villain’s main henchman was also idiotic. They really need to not add new characters when a series already labors under a huge cast. It was much more fun playing Spot the Cameo. Can you find Wedge Antilles, for example? Keep your eyes open.

Also, the new droid, D-O? Cute and all, but entirely unnecessary. We already have an astromech droid or two (depending on what BB-8 is). All I can conclude is they needed to fill out the marketing quota for ‘ things to put under the Christmas tree’. They can even produce them to scale.

D-O has a few funny lines, but I would have cut the character and focused on the people actors. There was too much to cover in two and a half hours, and introducing newbies wasn’t called for.  Give more time to BB-8 or R2 — they were totally under-served, and it was noticeable. I don’t think those two did much on this outing.

I need to see RoS again. There’s a lot to follow in Rise of Skywalker, and JJ Abrams seemed to squander half of the narrative fixing Rian Johnson’s plot gaffs. Which, honestly, needed to be done.

Um… Dune?

There were also several homages to Dune, and I found those took me out of the story. Does JJ want to make a new Dune trilogy? I’m chill with this, but don’t squish it into my Star Wars, okay? It was weird enough seeing Sandworms in The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies.

(Re: Dune. If I could talk to JJ, I’d ask if it wasn’t enough to continue both Star Wars and Star Trek stories — don’t be greedy. Lots of talented directors out there, ya know…I wonder what Joss Whedon or Taika Waititi would do with Dune.)

And, those planet killing weapons? I’m pretty sick of that. There won’t be anyone to rule if you keep blowing worlds up. How Naboo was occupied in The Phantom Menace seemed more relevant and frightening. What do you think? (Comment section is below.)

Anyway, there are major spoilers in this last trailer…I managed to not watch it until now and was pleasantly surprised by a few things everyone else were spoiled on. So watch this ‘Final Trailer’ at your discretion:

Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker, overall

I’m really not in the mood to complain. I was pleased. Nobody in the audience clapped at the end, which was unusual for Star Wars…but it was a Friday midday showing and the room was mostly empty. I’ve heard other audiences did clap and laugh. I was the only person dressed in proper attire — my Jedi Knight outfit. I even brought a Porg and one of my lightsabers (the one that folds down and fits in a purse — you never know what they won’t let you bring to the theaters these days). A stranger complimented me on my ensemble, and we talked for 45 minutes about Rise of Skywalker and the saga in general. #GeekingOut

I have to digest the movie (and see it again) to really come to terms with how I felt about it, but overall I’m thinking this is the 4th-best film in the franchise. I do grade some franchises on a curve, like the MCU, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. So this one is slightly less good than The Force Awakens, but a world of better than The Last Jedi.

Is this the end?

Will we see these characters again? My guess *today* is no. George Lucas envisioned the story as a nine-part arc, and I’m cool with that. Things wrapped up just fine.

But you never know. Disney might want to cash in on the popularity of Rey, Finn, Poe, and our favorite droids. Stranger things have happened… We’re even getting a new Ghostbusters next summer with the surviving original cast (RIP Harold Ramis). We’re revisiting many old franchises recently: Men in Black, Jumanji, Toy Story, Terminator, Aliens, Avatar, The Matrix, Downton Abbey, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, and Blade Runner. Among others. Getting butts in seats is the name of the cinema game.

In the meantime, Disney is playing Shuffle the Directors with any new Star Wars stories. So, who knows? I’d like to see a young Lando movie. Donald Glover was simply magnificent in Solo. More of that, please.

I’m grading this movie on a curve within the Star Wars Universe. I can’t help it. I do the same within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and some other franchises. I’m going to update my Star Wars Ranking article soon, and the series will be all slotted neatly, by rewatchability. And then we will achieve a balance in the Force!

PS: I’m going to see Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker in 4D soon. I have a ticket Dan Fogelberg himself gave me during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con (Yes, he’s Jacob from Fantastic Beasts), and I can’t wait to use it on this film. 

Movie Grade: A-

Infographic of every Star Wars movie ranked by fans on IMDb and RottenTomatoes

TROOPS – A Star Wars Parody Does COPS

Movie analysis – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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4 responses to “Movie Review – Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker (spoiler free)”

  1. Thanks for the nice long — mostly spoiler free — review.

    This movie had lots of enjoyable moments, which is about all we can hope for at this point. The mysticism of Star Wars was bludgeoned to death in Phantom Menace and there was never really any hope that someone like JJ Abrams would clean it up. If anything he only made it worse. But that’s an article for another day.

    It’s really depressing that my feeling going in to see Rise of Skywalker was one of dread. It’s sad that the franchise has fallen this far.

    1. Hey, Dan! Thanks for commenting.

      JJ should have done the whole thing. I enjoy Rian: he did Loopers and Knives Out. But he wanted to mold SW into something he personally liked, and tried to “Forget the past. Kill it if you have to.” Very Meta.

      I didn’t have dread at all. I was tingling with excitement, after 42 years in the telling. I had faith in JJ to answer the questions he posed in Force Awakens, that Rian just discarded like yesterday’s garbage. Even though Rian made some beautiful shots and great moments, there was…a lot not great.

      I have a feeling most of RoS was damage control from Last Jedi and the Prequels. Also, I ignore the stuff I don’t like: Jar Jar, midi-clorians, yippee, endless nonsense with Palpatine pulling strings in the Senate, various creatures living in vacuum, EWOKs destroying AT ATs with logs, etc, etc. I mellow on a lot of things over time. Like the finale of Battlestar Galactica. Still don’t like it, but I’m okay with it.

      Does this make sense?

      Can’t wait to see RoS again and in 4D!!! There’s a lot of scenes that fly by, lots of fun throwaway lines, easter eggs, cameos…I think this will be very rewatchable. But we’ll see how I feel over time. It’s amazing how some movies get better or worse after it settles in the mind.

      1. I don’t know who f’ed this up, but SOMEONE has to be in charge of the overarching story. So either the brass at Disney don’t care enough to put someone in charge and let the directors just yank the story around as they saw fit, or someone is in charge but did a crap job of maintaining continuity. Either way, it’s inexcusable.

        1. I don’t know why tracking continuity is so troublesome for big franchises. They should know the fans are going to nit pick everything to death. They could afford to hire people to watch over the narrative.

          I think Disney gave Last Jedi to Rian Johnson and said, “Do whatever you like.” Everything I read about the behind the scenes issues reported that’s what went down. Daisy Ridley (Rey) said JJ had an outline for The Last Jedi, but Rian kept almost nothing from it.

          Looking at the big franchises, it seems only when someone has oversight does the arc actually work (and not always then, like the screw up over The Hobbit). Like, basically Harry Potter and the MCU work in terms of coherent & continuous long epic arcs. And Fast & Furious, for some reason. 😉

          Huge franchises that screwed up most egregiously: X-Men, the DCEU, ….Star Wars…and we won’t mention the TV shows that lost their way in maintaining sense over the seasons (except The X-Files, can’t help but go there)…

          Star Trek managed to keep the narration going sensibly in the main timeline, even if the quality of the movies is hit/miss. But when JJ Abrams did the Trek reboot, I think he went more for ‘action’ and less for world-building, which was a misstep.

          I’m happy with JJ’s work on Star Wars, though. Maybe he was more of a Wars fan than Trek fan, growing up.

          I don’t want to see him corner the market on my favorite franchises, ultimately. There are things other directors could take on, like Dune and revisiting Middle Earth, and continuing Fantastic Beasts. And I’d love to see The Dragonriders of Pern come to life eventually.

          BTW, Jon Favreau is doing an amazing job with The Mandalorian. I guess we can say I trust his direction. No complaints with his work in the MCU.

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