dir: J.J. Abrams
Skywalkers rise and Skywalkers fall. All we know for sure is that, like the waves on any ocean, they’ll keep rising and falling as long as there’s money in it. And since this still made over a billion dollars for Disney, it’s pretty clear they’ll never stop the Skywalkers.
Where something will always happen very similar to before, doo doo doo de doo.
Even with all the rancour and acrimony out there in the fandom, still angry about female characters getting too much agency, screen-time and dialogue in these latest three films, they still went to the cinemas late last year and early this year in order to make this succeed, gazing angrily through their tears of hatewatching.
The Rise of Skywalker pretty much could have started off where Return of the Jedi ended, because it kinda makes it seem like the other films really weren’t that necessary. Right off the bat, they bring Palpatine back (Ian McDiarmid), who admits he’s been pulling the strings of the First Order after all these years, and that Snoke was a puppet (does anyone fondly remember and miss Snoke?) He tells the moody Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that he’ll get all the candy he ever wanted as long as he kills Rey (Daisy Ridley).
Let’s not skip over the insanity of where Palpatine is: I could be all sorts of wrong about this because maybe the imagery was a bit confusing, but after flying through a storm cloud that’s on fire, Kylo Ren walks in this dark place that has like this evil Sith pyramid or something suspended above the ground by the power of, evil, I guess, and then there’s the even creepier than before Emperor, who promises him a bunch of stuff just like the evillest Santa imaginable.
In this strange place, when promising multiple Christmas gifts, he does his big reveal, of bunches of more evil Star Destroyers rising up out of clouds as if they’re emerging from underground, as if they’re slightly undead technology. I guess that what I’m saying is that, visually, it’s very striking. It’s meant to generate that “oh fuck” kind of feeling that things are going to get worse for our heroes. But like almost everything in Star Wars, if you think about it for a few seconds, it’s flat out baffling and makes little sense.
For all those promises, Kylo doesn’t want to kill Rey – he wants to… I don’t know. At first, or at least based on the last flick, he wants her to come around to his way of thinking on things, but I guess, reluctant to admit this as I am, there is meant to be some underlying attraction between them. I hesitate to call it love, but who knows. There is a bond there, in addition to the Force bond that allows them to Skype over long distances and even take things from each other when they’re feeling huffy.
I mean, we accepted mind control, lifting heavy stuff and lightning coming out of your fingers for decades – I guess there’s a whole new set of unbelievable space magic stuff we now have to accept as The Force based on these last flicks. Yet we know, deep down, that the real power of The Force is that it allows those working on the screenplay to pull virtually anything out of their arses whenever they’re in a tight spot and say “just say they could do it because of The Force, problem solved”.
Kylo got a magic Sith doohickey that allowed him to fly to the even worse than before looking Palpatine, so now Rey needs to get her own doohickey or macguffin in order to find the Emperor and… do what? What’s her plan? It’s not that clear other than just getting to Palpatine. She has her doubts about stuff, but General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is there, mostly in CGI form, to tell her in very short sentences to trust certain things, like herself or The Force, or droids, or just in general to trust stuff.
Every time I think about Carrie Fisher I feel like tearing up. She was so great! And I’m not saying that, as a long term Star Wars fan, for the creepy reason most jerks point to. I’ve always loathed that slave outfit from Return of the Jedi, and have always considered it a black mark against George Lucas well before people started accusing him of ruining their childhoods. No, I’ve loved her, if that is the right word for someone I’ve never met but felt like I knew, because of the way she talked about her struggles with relationships, with alcohol and drugs and life in general in a charming and hilarious way, whether it was in her stage shows, in Postcards from the Edge starring Meryl Streep as her or on numerous talk show appearances.
Yes, there was a bit of the ‘older drunken relative who you’re dreading is going to say something terrible at the dinner table’ aspect, but I thought she was wonderful, and she was great in all her roles in everything that she ever did. We know she died in 2016, but seeing her here is great and painful. Her scenes are a bit strange, and one of them, set way in the past is entirely CGI, but there’s still something comforting about seeing her, and bittersweet. Her last scene, looking on benevolently with her brother by her side, was probably as perfect an image as they’ll ever manage, so it should be the last one of her in the films. It’s also sweet seeing her daughter Billie Lourd in a small role as one of the Rebels.
Speaking of summoning the dead, yes, they dug up Billy Dee Williams to play Lando Calrissian again, and the less said about that the better. The nostalgia tour never ends in this flick, because even with the young cast, the flick is relentless in its reminders about the other flicks, like the elderly relative that only keeps pointing to stuff that happened in a previous war as a reference to why the kids of today continue to suck.
I say let the kids have their day and their say without having to overload everything with reverence for the past. Rey is drowning in having to come to terms with shit that has nothing to do with anything she’s done in her life, but only seems to be the repercussions of what people before her did or didn’t do. In The Last Jedi she was pretty much meant to get to a place where the past was meaningless in defining who she is today, and accepting that was seen as important.
In this flick they’re like “Well actually, who you are now is only because of who you came from, and that will define you forever, so never make any bad choices because then the entire universe would be doomed because of you!!!!!!”
That’s an unfair burden to place on anyone. I think whatever problems anyone has had with anything in this recent trilogy, none of that can be laid at the feet of Daisy Ridley or Rey. She has been consistently great over the three films with a character too freighted with significance to be able to breath easily, but she’s stepped lightly and brought a charm and a grace to this role of The Most Important Jedi that none of the other leads of the other films ever managed (by which I mean Mark Hamill or Hayden Christiansen). But she also brought a weight, a heftiness to the fights and the Jedi stuff that made it more than just hand waving or stunt work. She’s great in general and really strong as Rey. The brief glimpse we get of what Rey would be like if she turned to the Dark Side almost makes me wish we could see that alternative timeline. Because she’s terrifying.
Two characters not freighted or weighed down by the past are Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), who both do well with the blokey banter and cocky competitiveness we used to expect from Luke and Han in the first two films at least. It’s…okay here, I mean they need to have stuff to do in order to justify their paychecks. A lot of their banter and quips fly by so quickly and sound so banal that they’re not that memorable. They’re both quite charming in their roles, but Finn has more of a path, I guess, since they strongly keep implying he is Force sensitive, and routinely does that pause which means someone’s about to say something that other characters are going to accept without contradiction Because He Just Feels That It’s True.
On a particular one of the pointless sidequests put there just to keep dragging things out between lightsabre fights, Finn chats with another former Stormtrooper called Janna (Naomi Ackie), who also one day decided she couldn’t follow orders to slaughter innocent people because it just felt wrong. They have a lot in common, and I was wondering as it was happening whether it meant they’re just decent people who couldn’t torture and kill anymore, or whether it meant, this being the War of the Stars, whether it meant they were all Force sensitive, and on a path to becoming, I dunno, Jedi or something.
Instead the flick uses it just as the set up to having a bunch of scavengers ride horses on top of a Star Destroyer they’re trying to destroy in a moment that should be mocked for the next forty years.
Pseudo Space Horses. And people wonder why it’s hard to earn respect with these flicks any longer.
One of the other time killing diversions has The Crew turn up to a planet we’ve never heard of before in order to see a tiny drunk thing called Babu Frink to get something out of C3PO’s head, but also to dash any lingering notion that Finn / Poe shippers were on to something by having some female person from the past be angry with Poe, threaten to kill him, then help him, reassuring us of the heteronormative status quo.
Zorrii (Keri Russell) gets more screen and dialogue than many other characters established in the current trilogy, so you might wonder how important she might be in the scheme of things. Really, her main purpose is to highlight the feelings of loyalty and obligation J.J. Abrams still has towards Keri Russell and Greg Grunberg, who also has had a minorish role in these three flicks as a Rebel pilot, who he keeps casting in stuff after all these years. They were two of the main characters in his first tv series, being Felicity, and since then they’ve been in everything he does nearly twenty years later.
Now that’s love. Now that’s loyalty. Either that, or they’ve both got unspeakable dirt on him, and he knows what will happen if they don’t get work chop chop.
Zorrii is okay, and pretty cool looking as a character, but her main purpose is to remind us that Poe Dameron has some dirt under his fingernails, shocked as Finn is to find out that Poe was a spice dealer back in the day, which I guess is their equivalent of being a drug dealer.
Just say no to drugs, kids, but say yes to Spice! It’s good for what ails you, as long as it’s a bored palate.
Possibly my favourite non-Star War-sy scene in the flick involved Poe and Zorrii from a distance, as something is being celebrated, and he gives her a head gesture like “Have I still got a chance?” and she emphatically indicates “Uh-uh”. And then he indicates an only slightly disappointed “Cool, cool, I respect your boundaries”. It’s all non-verbal, and it’s all hilarious, for me at least. Oscar Isaac is so great in other things, it’s almost slumming for him to be here, but he doesn’t just phone it in, which is a relief. He gets to be cooler than John Boyega’s character of Finn, but I guess Finn gets to care about more things, or comes to terms with more things, or masters that far away but still intense facial expression when something Force-y is happening.
Because lightsabres are cool, and lightsabre battles are cool, they know to space them out for us so we don’t get too bored with them. The fight between Kylo and Rey on a wave swept platform looks pretty amazing. They try to fight in different ways from before, just to keep things fresh, and I guess it’s okay. It’s not a multi-stage fight like some of the more frantic yet drawn out ones in the prequels, but it also isn’t treated like the be all and end all: Rey might have some anger towards Kylo Ren, but she doesn’t actually want to kill him. And that’s where they introduce, at least for these films, new powers to destroy and to heal, which works out pretty well, all things considered.
That fight is a prelude to the Final Battle to beat all Final Battles, until the next one comes along. It’s resolved in the time old tradition of people yelling at each other and then everything else blowing up, but it’s done in a competent enough manner.
What was a bit of a surprise is that Palpatine himself essentially admits that he has backup – all the vile Sith who’ve previously lived and died lend their vileness to him. So what’s a girl who’s tapping in to the goodwill and support of all the previous Jedi to do but accept that every decent soul is on her side? I was chilled by those scenes, I’m not ashamed to admit I was moved by those scenes.
Some parts of it, formulaic as they are, were enjoyable to watch, especially when Adam Driver decides he can be more of a smartarse now that he’s not having to be the most Emo teenager on the Emo block. He doesn’t even have to put heaps of eyeliner on.
Most actors, like the ones in the original three movies, aren’t bigger than the flicks. With the prequels and then these ones, it made it seem like any actors can be slotted in to any section, fitting seamlessly like a Lego block forced into very technical pudding. As wonderful as a career as I hope Daisy Ridley has far away from these flicks, the one person who seems bigger and yet indifferent to these flicks is Adam Driver, who is a strange actor at the best of times. You could argue that he did what he could with this role, some of it seemed worthy of mockery, but he’s the only one that comes out of this completely unscathed. As the weird hipster doofus that pops up everywhere, he’s quite accomplished at not overacting, and he did better here than the role ever deserved.
I enjoyed it. I very much doubt it’s the last one. I am sick of the constant references to the original trilogy, and I would love them to tell new stories, but watching Rey’s story wrap up in a meaningful way, on Tattoine, as the twin suns lower in the sky, was moving enough without the nostalgia, even as she pays tribute to the twins who guided her towards the best of herself and the light.
It’s more than enough for me.
8 times the darkness in Emperor Palpatine’s den of evil was so scary, I thought Catholic priests were going to attack Rey and Kylo out of 10
“I've died before. The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be... unnatural.” – as if he wasn’t creepy enough before, now he’s quoting directly from the Bible – The Rise of Skywalker