Saturday, December 21, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker review

If you're a Star Wars fan, you've probably seen that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been getting mixed reviews. As I write this it is scoring 53% at Rotten Tomatoes. Is it as bad as some critics say or is the Force with this film? If I may paraphrase Maz (Lupita Nyong'o) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's a "good question" for today.

The Rise of Skywalker opens with your classic Star Wars crawl. And right away, we learn Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is still alive and broadcasting something on a podcast. Okay, the podcast thing is not in the movie. Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) to gather intelligence about him and the threat he poses. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is training with Leia in the ways of the Force. And Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is having trouble with his marriage... um, that's Marriage Story. Ren is also looking for the Emperor but for different reasons. Perhaps to join forces?

The performances are pretty good. Great to see Ian McDiarmid back as Palpatine. He doesn't seem to have aged but of course he has played an old wrinkly old man since Return of the Jedi. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega both know their characters well and adeptly play off each other. The late Carrie Fisher's role was supposedly cut out of other films and pasted here. I frankly didn't notice. Yeah, I'm no fanboy but her performance was seamless. Adam Driver is a tortured and conflicted Kylo Ren. And Daisey Ridley is magnetic. There are some great reveals and she is wonderful.

Okay, you might think The Rise of Skywalker is pretty good. Not so fast young Padawan. The screenplay by director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio based on their and Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow's story has some problems. The first being the above crawl. Maybe I missed it but I don't recall a hint of the Emperor in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi. While some critics liked learning of Poe's backstory and the introduction of Zorii played by a helmeted Keri Russell, I thought it distracted from where the story needed to get going. There's another character introduced who seems to be the focus of Lando (Billy Dee Williams). She's Jannah (Naomi Ackie). Again, this is a character who interacts with Finn but it takes away from the momentum of the story. And there is another cute robot introduced named Cone. But what is this for? Other delays include too much time spent on a flooded world where Rey must obtain an artifact. No problem with where it's at but do we need so much film to show her finally get to it? Now all these lesser characters could be a setup for another movie or Disney Plus TV show. Still, this is a film not a mini-series. The movie is also a little too reminiscent of Return of the Jedi. One more thing, this movie is not science fiction. Characters are in outer space without spacesuits. Think space fantasy.

Where the screenplay works is the humor and its depiction of the goals of the characters. You'll have to see the movie to get the jokes in context. But I had to laugh at the jab this movie takes at The Last Jedi and a certain lightsaber. The motivations and reveals of the characters all worked logically. And there's warmth here too. Finn, Poe and Rey make a fine trio of friends.

Director J.J. Abrams thankfully keeps his penchant for lens flares at bay. And he doesn't let the fast cutting interfere with the action. Those scenes make sense and are exciting and easy to follow. he does falter on some of the scenes that take place on a dark planet interior. Look we get it. This planet is spooky, dusty and dark. But it's very hard to determine what the action is when it's so dark and he uses fast cutting. The movie does have some stunning special effects. 

Another reason to see this film is to hear legendary John Williams score and how it works wonderfully with the action. Let's face it. Williams is in the twilight of his career. His score for this film is regal, heroic and triumphant.

I was captivated by Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It held my interest. Is no where as bad as the The Phantom Menace nor is it as great as The Empire Strikes Back. Still worth seeing if you are a Star Wars fan. The grade is B.

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