A Past with Star Wars
Try to strap yourselves in because I do have a personal history with Star Wars and all the movies in the franchise. There is a lot to cover when talking about Star Wars so I am going to do my best here and run through my experience with the past films in order to shed as much of a light on my perspective as possible for going into this latest installment.
The original trilogy, running from 1977 to 1983, I utterly adore; I grew up with those movies and hold them dear to my heart like most fans of this series does. George Lucas sparked a series of space operas that were fun, cool, contain a slew of great and memorable characters, innovative special effects shining throughout, breathtaking action, and they took real risks in terms of storytelling that have gone down as some of the most well known trivia in cinematic history. They’re legendary films that continue to this day holding the benchmark for what a Star Wars movie should strive to be. Out of the original movies, like most, my favorite is Empire Strikes Back. Call me a basic b*tch, but that one is my favorite and I won’t apologize for it. Regardless, I love all three.
The prequel trilogy, running from 1999 to 2005, I also grew up with this set and at the time did enjoy… then I grew up and realized oh so many glaring flaws with the Lucas exploration of the underwhelming past. Dialog so two-dimensionally cliché and irritating that it makes me want to rip my ears off, acting that is so lifeless in which to bring in a defibrillator on the movie’s nonexistent heart would achieve nothing, special effects that are laughable, humor that completely breaks the tone of all three movies in how ill-timed they’re written while also simply not funny in the slightest, and stories holding so much potential in unveiling the true origins of Darth Vader and the rise of the Empire which were missed by a mile in execution. These three have some decent moments and cool sequences; the lightsaber fight at the end of Phantom Menace, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi was pitch perfect casting, and Darth Maul was a neat villain that died way too soon (unaware of much lore outside of film). Other than that, they’re not very good. Although that’s not news.
Force Awakens & Last Jedi
With J.J. Abrams’ sequel reboot, The Force Awakens, and it’s follow-up, The Last Jedi, I enjoyed them. Are they great works of art? By all means, no. However, I still had fun with them. Each have likable as hell characters, some decent and interesting setup for possible story revelations and arcs to be revealed, and Kylo Ren is hands down the best character/villain to come out of the franchise since Darth Vader. A lot of people fell in love with Force Awakens and downright loathed Last Jedi upon their respective releases, I felt neither love or hate for either flick. That being said, I still had my issues with both movies which do not seem to be the same issues as the rest of the fanbase. It’s not the “lore breaking” content introduced or whatever the hell the man-babies were crying about in Last Jedi. No, my big problem is that they’re straight-up remakes of the original trilogy. Force Awakens, call it what you will, is a remake of A New Hope. Then Last Jedi is a hardcore remake of both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, even though I still find both films to be entertaining, that doesn’t take away the fact of me wishing for something far more original and ambitious than what we wound up receiving.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was okay, but overrated. And Solo: A Star Wars Story is a lot of fun and underrated. Take that, internet!
Rise of Skywalker
As I’m writing this, the fanbase seems completely split right down the middle on how to feel about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Some absolutely praise this movie for being “better than Last Jedi” and hitting all of the right notes. Others are angered about it’s “lore breaking” inclusions being delved into or find the story to be a total mess. Then there are a select sum so mixed on the feature that they don’t know how to remotely feel about it. I can definitely see and understand all sides of this particular argument. What’s my take on the closing of this latest trilogy? I liked it. I had fun with it. Do I think it was great? No, and trust me when I say I’ll get to my problems shortly on the matter. Although do I think that it’s the worst movie in the entire series or am I insulted by the ideas introduced? Not even a little. Mostly, I find Rise of Skywalker to be messy yet entertaining.
In this review I will more than likely be getting into spoiler territory at some point, before that ever happens though I do promise to display a *SPOILER WARNING* tag just before revealing said spoiler. You have been warned, fellow reader! Although if you’re the type to find a plot synopsis a spoiler then maybe stop reading here.
Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has mysteriously risen from the grave to take back his fallen empire with his army of secret followers. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), now Supreme Leader of the First Order, has formed an alliance with Palpatine to wipe out the Resistance and kill Rey (Daisy Ridley) to end the Jedi once and for all.
If anyone reading is wondering, “Woah, woah, woah! Where did this Emperor Palpatine stuff come from? That wasn’t even slightly alluded to in the two previous movies!” That is correct, there was literally nothing in hinting the return of Palpatine. Not specifically anyways, maybe details so vague that it could have literally been anything, but not so obviously this particular revelation. Yet the film seriously opens with text explaining some message broadcasted across the galaxy (a message we are not actually privileged in hearing during the runtime) that Palpatine announced his return and declares all-out war. So we are catapulted into a story that feels as though a secret sequel happened in between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker that we will never get to see. Not going to lie, this tactic resulted in a massively clunky first act where it is as though the script were trying to play catch-up with itself. There was no flow to the pacing, the audience is rushed through scene after scene unsure of exactly what direction we are going in before we’re already onto the next scene.
After a while, the narrative does find its footing somewhat in at least having focus rather than explaining bulks of information that was never properly established beforehand. It takes a good long while though to find steady ground. Especially when these story revelations involving Palpatine, Kylo Ren, and Rey are so glaring in how underdeveloped they are that it distracts me from trying to enjoy the ride. It’s as though a majority of the screenplay was a last minute effort to rectify previous choices made while cramming three movies worth of information into one. If there was more setup laid out in the two prior installments then maybe this third entry could have had more of a chance to breathe it’s interesting ideas instead of spending most of its running time explaining what was never brought up to begin with.
I will give the story credit though over Force Awakens and Last Jedi in that this wasn’t a total retread of New Hope, Empire, or Return for two thirds of the picture… then the third act becomes 100% a retread of Return of the Jedi… again! However, it was nice to see a little more originality in the story for the most part. Not anything all that special, but what we got was entertaining enough when it was allowed to be a story and not strictly exposition. At its brightest highlights, there is still the charismatic and engaging characters of the last two features that we get more of a chance to see bounce humorous dialog among one another. There’s even some great character moments filled with intensity between Kylo Ren and Rey, which are easily the best parts to watch. Not going to lie, every time those two fought… it was hot. They clearly want to bone, but can’t so they take their sexual frustration out via trying to kill each other with lightsabers. Pretty awesome!
How do I put this… I love Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey. I truly do, she can give one look to the camera and she is playing my heartstrings like a freaking fiddle. Her facial expressions in acting is phenomenal and I really cannot get enough of her. She brings life into a character that sadly isn’t written as terrifically as she deserves. Not to say that Rey is a bad character, but it’s a retread of Luke Skywalker through and through. Similar origins of growing up on a desert planet, discovering the ways of the force through meeting an old man who takes her under his wing for a bit, struggles with balancing the light and dark side of the force, trains on a deserted planet under the teachings of an old Jedi master hiding in exile, discovers secrets about her own heritage that are Earth shattering to her, and attempts desperately to turn someone she cares for from the dark side. Oh, and she’s a remarkably talented pilot too. It’s the exact same story arc, only at this point it’s not original anymore. Even though I like her character and her personality is all her own, the path she follows has been done before and executed much better in my opinion. At no point was I convinced she would ever crossover to the dark side and I was proven right every time. She’s a character with far too much of a predictable story that needed some real spicing up in the writing department to make her more interesting.
There is something about Rey that is learned in Rise of Skywalker which totally retcons everything claimed to be her origins in Last Jedi. Be warned, I am about to spoil a significant plot/character point in this movie so if you don’t want to know it then please stop reading here! This is your final warning.
Rey in The Last Jedi was told that her parents were a couple of drunken nobodies that left her on a desert planet to fend for herself. Turns out that was not entirely true now as the latest sequel reveals that she is in actuality the granddaughter of Palpatine… Dun, dun, dun! In theory, I can see this working in ways that could be extremely provocative and risqué. Overall, I had to force myself to accept this plot twist in order to continue on as there wasn’t enough setup to make this feel like a natural twist. Like a lot of things in this screenplay, it comes out of nowhere without a lot of time to be developed or breathe as a natural progression of the story. Instead it is thrown in at face value while it becomes yet another aspect to borrow from Empire Strikes Back. I truly wish that I was able to become far more invested in Rey’s character arc of battling the light and dark side, this revelation of being Palpatine’s granddaughter could have been the cherry on top. Sadly, it never happened. To an extent, I was at least entertained by what was going on through her story, just not riveted. With the inclusion of her family ties, it’s unneeded and adds zilch to the plot.
Who Did It... *Still In Spoiler Territory*
Oh and seriously, who f*cked Palpatine? I’m not kidding, I want to know who in their right mind f*cked that dude and when! Who touched that hideous man in a way to make babies?! Because it also seems like something shoved in here with no firm structure to rely on… who f*cked him? Why?! And why did he not train his kid to be evil? Why did he all of the sudden care about family ties when the grandbaby was born? Just why? Who f*cked him?!
Kylo Ren / Ben Solo
As I said before, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is undoubtedly the best character in this whole new wave of Star Wars flicks. That fact remains intact with Rise of Skywalker, showing that he has the most interesting character arc out of everyone. Ren’s/Ben’s personal journey through the dark side is the only element I found to be wildly engaging as well as unpredictable. At no point was I ever sure which way Ren was going to go, whether embracing his villainous lust for power or joining Rey in her quest for peace. Sometimes it was both and I really did dig the hell out of everything having to do with Ren’s path of self-discovery and his complicated relationship with Rey. Throughout this latest trilogy, I’ve been excited to see where Ren’s story was leading and I mostly feel satisfied with the conclusion of his arc. Except for one thing.
Ren dies. To an extent, I could have been fine with that. But in the manner it was executed here, it felt forced in a way that irked me. Throughout the movie, it’s basically been established that death can be cheated at any time the writers want. For whatever reason, it wasn’t possible with Ren because… reasons? That really did annoy me a bit as he was the best character with such a great arc that he went through only to have such an unfulfilling end feels like a kick to the gonads a little bit. Especially when the movie finally gives the relationship between him and Rey that final push I’ve been itching for, then immediately kill it off. I won’t lie when I say his demise was relatively disappointing. Yes, I understand the symbolism behind it, but it’s not the ending he deserves.
The setup for John Boyega’s Finn is a rather unique one; a Stormtrooper coming to the sudden realization that what he’s been programmed to do is wrong so he becomes a fighter for the resistance. Right there is a solid and interesting premise, so how do they build onto that in the sequels? They don’t. In The Last Jedi, Finn is sent off on his own subplot quest to visit a casino planet and in Rise they have him tag along as basically Rey’s sidekick who might have feelings for her. That was also an awkward ongoing thread, Finn keeps bringing up that he has something important to tell Rey. Presumably that he likely is in love with her or so we’re sort of led to believe. He never tells her though. This “secret” is brought up like four or five times throughout the movie only to not be followed up on in any way. What was the point? Why have that injected into the dialog at all?
I understand that the writers wrote themselves in a corner with this love triangle going on between Finn, Rey, and Ren but… they just dropped the ball without any intent of recovering. At least Boyega’s performance is charming, so I was never annoyed by the character. Finn is a likable and funny dude with a heart of gold, but the potential that was squandered here can’t be overlooked. All the really cool avenues that could have and should have been taken with a Stormtrooper turned rogue are limitless, yet they went with the most uninteresting and safest route. In the end, what are we left with for the Finn character? Another good guy following our lead hero. No more, no less.
Action & Spectacle
A large factor playing into the Star Wars franchise is how good the action and special effects are; Rise of Skywalker has some terrific action that gives a lot of bang for one’s buck on the big screen. Every lightsaber fight feels grand with gorgeous set pieces, the aerial battles are big and extraordinary to view, and every visual effect (practical and digital) was spot on. In some of the action sequences, the Force has also progressed in a way to show off some fairly creative results when our leads duke it out via their powers of “Force Projection”; transferring images of themselves and now even other objects into one another’s environment. That was another technical aspect that kept my interest to see how much further it could evolve as it brought many cool ideas into the action itself. When it comes to the action and visuals, this was definitely worth the ticket price in my opinion.
One thing that I appreciate about these latest three movies is their lightsaber battles because of how it blends the fight choreography of both the original trilogy and the prequels. For me, the prequels were a little too intricate and flashy. Although I can’t deny some of that flare was pretty nifty to behold at times, combining some of that flare with the raw simplicity seen in the originals of characters simply trying to murder one another is exciting to see in this latest trilogy. At no point are the lightsaber fights too simple or mundane nor do they turn into a ridiculous ballet of sorts. They have flash to them, but never forget that the fights are characters driven to kill.
Carrie Fisher / General Leia
From what I understand, Carrie Fisher sadly passed away before principal photography was wrapped on The Last Jedi back in 2016 and before Rise of Skywalker could even begin production. In order to preserve her character for Rise of Skywalker, they went the route of using archive footage in order to superimpose Fisher into scenes constructed for the purpose of this film. I will say that if I wasn’t looking for the telltales of the actress’s absence then I might not have noticed certain details in her scenes, but I think I would definitely caught onto the awkwardness in the dialog. Everything that the character of General Leia is saying is always set up by someone else so that she can give a proper reaction, but it’s kind of clumsy it part. Admittedly, they obviously did the best job they could under the unfortunate circumstances and they handled her character with great respect. I’m simply reporting that I noticed some awkward scenes pertaining to her character. With that said, it was nice to see Carrie Fisher one last time on the big screen. She was a lovely actress and seemed equally as lovely in her personal life. It was heartbreaking to have her pass away as suddenly as she did, but her great legacy of film will undoubtedly live on. Rest in peace, Carrie.
Kelly Marie Tran / Rose Tico
If there is anyone curious to know what became of the Rose character from The Last Jedi, let me explain the situation like this… Do you remember when word of mouth hit that the general audience despised Jar Jar Binks from Phantom Menace, resulting in its sequel (Attack of the Clones) barely supplying that character all of five minutes of screen time maximum? Well, that’s exactly what happened to Rose. The writers ‘Jar Jar Binks’-ed the hell out of her and she is practically an extra, not even reaching ‘supporting character’ level. As I’m writing this review, articles are coming out with the screenwriters claiming that the reason Kelly Marie Tran has so little screen time is because all of her scenes are alongside Carrie Fisher and the special effect to include Fisher was ineffective for a majority of Tran’s scenes; therefore needing to be cut from the final edit. Alright, sure. Fair enough. I could buy that. If it wasn’t for the fact that the script clearly went out of its way to constantly explain why the Rose character couldn’t tag along with the lead characters while she was stuck with the one uncertain element that was obviously going to be most difficult to accomplish and would be such an easy excuse to use for why her scenes needed deleting. Maybe the producers genuinely did want to include more for Rose, but I honestly think they are lying their asses off. Just a hunch.
The Retroactive Problem
When we put this sequel trilogy together (Force Awakens, Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker), there is no cohesiveness to the story to any of it by the time we reach the third entry. As though huge chunks of story are either missing in between the last two sequels or shoved in completely out of nowhere as a flimsy excuse for the next adventure our heroes have to go on. Looking back to realize all of these vague setups and breadcrumbs practically led nowhere or didn’t have enough attention written into them to develop properly. So when this third installment seemingly fumbles things so poorly, it’s difficult not to wonder as to what the point for any of this was. Retreading material that was already perfect the first time around and not following through with any clever ideas of its own. Taking no form of risk and only playing things absolutely safe to deliver a story we’ve been told before, only in the guise of sequels rather than remakes. I won’t lie, that is a major problem with this trilogy that ticks me off.
Rise of Skywalker is flawed with its somewhat messy story jampacking last minute ideas… I still had fun with it though. I know that I ragged on this movie a bunch, apologies for that by the way, but I can’t gloss over the problems I found. No matter if I enjoy a movie or not. Was this a masterpiece? No. It’s not the worst of the lot either though. If someone goes in with the mindset to love or hate this movie then they probably will walk out unphased of their pre-existing opinion. I walked in cautiously optimistic and I had a good time. The characters are lovable enough to carry me through the weaker structure, the story was messy yet had enough going for it that I was onboard for the journey, and the action was pretty cool to watch. If someone goes in with an open mind, I think they’ll be okay. Maybe not loving what they get, but hopefully enjoying it like I did.
My biggest complaint with Rise and its two predecessors is that there were no risks taken. From start to finish, this sequel trilogy played every move safe by only taking what has already been done before with very few changes made. As far as I’m concerned, I watched a trilogy of remakes. At least they were entertaining remakes, but remakes nonetheless. Will I go back to re-watch these three at some point? Most likely, not to the extent of how I watch the original trilogy however. Part of me hopes that there’s a future to come with these characters so that maybe we can experience a story all of their own. For now, this is what we are left with and I find it to be a set of enjoyable enough popcorn flicks. A glowing recommendation? Not so much, but if you love Star Wars and have seen the other movies then popping this one up on Netflix or Disney+ should be a sufficient experience; or even a matinee screening to get a decent spectacle in the theater while you can.
The Best War of the Stars
That’s All Folks!
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker… a title that roles right off the tongue! What did you think? Like or dislike? Agree or disagree? Wish Ren and Rey would just bang and get it over with already? Comment down below and let me know! Also, if you so happened to have enjoyed my review then please do me a favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a balanced day!
© 2019 John Plocar
John Plocar (author) from Weatherford on December 31, 2019:
I get what you mean with the multitude of rehashing ideas in cinema that we've already seen time and time again and it can become rather stale after a while.
I'm also really excited for the Dune remake/reboot next year as I'm a huge fan of the director behind the project. Like you mentioned though, the more original films will probably come from the smaller/independent movie scene.
You're also right with Last Jedi and the risks that it took not nearly holding the same resonance with its audience that something akin to Empire had effortlessly achieved. I enjoy these newer movies to an extent, but there should have been a lot more risks taken to make it something truly special.
Sam Shepards from Europe on December 31, 2019:
The Last Jedi was a story mostly about losing. I do understand that in that way it was similar to Empire.
The difference was losing the base on the ice planet and seeing Darth Vader there was "scary" (as a kid). Luke training and facing off with Vader and losing a hand and the fight was impactful. Han being captured and taken away was a real loss. Most of the loss and betrayel in Last Jedi seemed less important or real. Sometimes because of the characters, although Luke was more real in Jedi than he's probably ever been, but many characters and subplots seemed somewhat irrelevant. How irrelevant they are or were can be seen by how easily Abrams brushes things aside in this last episode. Still I did enjoy the movie enough.
Sam Shepards from Europe on December 31, 2019:
Excellent review, The Last Jedi was the only one that attempted to be different (take some risks), but all risks were without any real impact or resolution for the trilogy and it took some heat for it, but it was all contained. I sometimes feel this is what happens if you live long enough, you've seen it all. :) I have that feeling with Home Alone every Christmas on TV (a groundhog day feeling :)), but cinema itself with the reboots and remakes sometimes gives me the same feeling, luckly there is still enough out there to like and enjoy. I set some of my cinema hopes for the new year on movies like Dune..., but the best things will probably come from smaller/indepedent productions I guess.