Rise of Skywalker

Rating:

THERE IS NO TRY

Main Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver

Director: J. J. Abrams

I spent the morning at the offices of Fajer and Hellmann, my attorneys, drafting a legal strategy to deal with the fall out from the spectacular collapse of my new holiday musical, Snakes on a Plane. Apparently, several audience members were slightly injured in the crush towards the exits after PETER (People for the Ethical Treatment of Estimable Reptiles) agents set loose my snake costars, invading the orchestra and lower mezzanine, crawling into handbags, and in general causing front of house mayhem. Fortunately, MNM productions printed a limited liability contract in very fine print on the back of every ticket so we’re pretty immune from a majority of lawsuits and other legal procedures. There may be more of a problem with Sal’s Snaketeria in Reseda, from whom we obtained most of the animals. Several of their most prized specimens are still on the loose in Westwood and scaring the occasional passerby as they slither through the gutters. #snakesonthelam is now a trending hashtag on Twitter and the general public has been very good at spotting and calling in tips on our missing reptiles.

corn snake in boot
#snakesonthelam

I, of course, suggested that we prepare a counter suit against PETER and its agents for causing a near riot and the collapse of my latest theatrical venture (which is costing me a fortune in box office returns). I am a valuable entertainment commodity and the damage done to my sterling character and reputation for wholesome family fun by headlines such as ‘Vicki Lester Makes an Asp of Herself at Pantages Theater’ is really not to be borne. Fajer and Hellmann promise to look into the finances of the organization to see what assets we might be able to attach and sell to offset my losses. Fortunately, we have been able to save the set pieces, costumes, and other physical elements of the production at the local U-Stor-It to await a time when we can remount and do a thorough vetting of the stage crew to make sure no miscreants are let in. I better make a mental note to myself to talk to the local IATSE shop steward.

After my meetings, I was a bit frazzled so I figured it was time to treat myself to a film, so I toddled off to one of those new Westwood cinemas that offers gourmet food and a full bar and ordered buffalo wings with cauliflower rice (a girl does need to watch her figure) and a pitcher of margaritas and decided it was high time I catch the most recent film in the Star Wars saga – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I settled into one of their comfy Barcaloungers, put up my feet, poured a nice cool one (adding just a nip of tequila from the flask in my bag just in case they were watering down the drinks) and ignored the plethora of advertisements and trailers that assaulted me for the next twenty minutes or so before the start of the feature attraction.

I have been enjoying the Star Wars canon since I was a wee slip of an ingenue back more than forty years ago when the original premiered. I was in the running for Princess Leia at one point but ruled out for being too old – as if! I was then, as I am now, eternally thirty-nine years of age. At one point, I had been cast as Aunt Beru but the shooting schedule in Tunisia conflicted with previously scheduled tendon surgery so that was out, besides which, they had already cut her big musical number from the script for time. That first film took the world by storm in the late 70s, creating a pop culture phenomenon which has continued until the present day. What was a stand-alone film spawned two sequels making a trilogy. Fifteen years later, a prequel trilogy went into production, and now, another fifteen to twenty years on, a third trilogy taking the original characters into age and introducing us to a whole new generation comes to completion. The last film in a nine-film arc spanning forty-two years and needing to complete, not just a trilogy, but an entire pop culture phenomenon, is a lot of weight for any film to bear. Does it succeed? Yes and no.

The Rise of Skywalker picks up soon after the end of the previous film, The Last Jedi. Baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finds his way to the Sith planet of Exegol where it is revealed that the evil emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) is not quite as dead as believed and assembling power to finally bend the galaxy to his will. A spy amongst his first order gets this information to the resistance where young Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in training to hone her recently discovered Jedi powers. She bids adieu to General Leia (Carrie Fisher) who has been helping her train and, together with her pals Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) she sets off to try and find her way to Exegol herself, which can only be done with the aid of a Sith artifact called a way finder, and such objects are hard to come by. They end up, along with Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and BB-8 at a Bollywood version of Burning Man with a lot of double trunked elephant bipeds in saris where they run into Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). Various things happen: There are confrontations between good and evil. An unlikely spy is unmasked. There’s a cute little critter by the name of Babu Frik (Shirley Henderson) that gets them out of jam. There are epic light saber battles. There are nick of time rescues. There is deep despair that the good guys cannot win over impossible odds. There are appearances by much beloved characters from prior films. In short, it’s a Star Wars movie with all of the Saturday matinee serial plotting, hokey dialogue, spectacular effects, and attempts to probe at the deeper themes of myth and the hero’s quest without ever totally succeeding.

rise of skywalker poster 2

I quite liked The Rise of Skywalker. It’s never dull. Anytime things get a little slow, we’re rocketing off to a new planet or a new set piece of some sort. There are a few too many of them and as a result the film feels a little long and a little over stuffed as if they had to put in something for absolutely everyone in the fan base. Pretty much every surviving character from the third trilogy has a scene or plot line or something to do, even if they don’t add much to the proceedings and there are some wonderful little cameos and call outs that hearken back to the original film. (I shan’t tell you who or what they are – you’ll have to discover that for yourself). Rian Johnson, who put together The Last Jedi, set up some interesting ideas for the Star Wars universe but the usual creative differences derailed pre-production on this film with a release date to meet and out of the muddle, J J Abrams, who made The Force Awakens, was reeled back in by the studio to helm this one. Mr. Abrams makes splendid movies visually, but he always has difficulty getting his films to mean anything on a deeper level. Reflecting back on them a week later, one tends to recognize that there’s no there there. They do not linger in the consciousness and make you ponder over the characters and their fates. A better film maker might have been able to do more and make the material more emotionally resonant, but then it wouldn’t have looked as pretty. Abrams staging of certain scenes: a light saber fight on mounds of metallic debris in a storm-tossed ocean, a charge of various humanoids mounted on horse type creatures racing along the deck of a star destroyer, even the above-mentioned Bollywood Burning Man, are a feast for the senses.

The third trilogy cast have grown into their roles. Daisy Ridley in particular, one of the few characters with significant screen time, has a new maturity in her approach to Rey and her fate. The last sequence, which is quiet and dreamlike as opposed to the bombast that has gone before, works because she makes it. She is nearly matched by Adam Driver as the evil Kylo Ren, but also the good Ben Solo – you can see his transformations and inner turmoil in his eyes. He uses subtle changes in body language and inflection to tell you all you need to know about the conflict he’s facing. The surviving actors from the original film turn up and we get at least one good scene from each of them before all is said and done. The addition of Palpatine to this chapter is an interesting choice on the part of the film makers. He doesn’t have a lot to do, but with his presence, the entire nine film saga shifts. At first with the original trilogy, we thought it was Luke’s story. The addition of the prequel trilogy shifted the arc to make the whole thing Anakin/Darth Vader’s story. With this latest revelation, it shifts again to make the whole thing Palpatine’s story and a metaphor for the corruption of political power as we see Palpatine go from a relative good guy to someone who’s the embodiment of evil as his power grows and he becomes more and more the authoritarian/totalitarian.  I won’t go so far as to say we’re supposed to read in too many parallels to our current political moment, but one can’t help but notice.

Although the story is purportedly over, the recent purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney suggests we’re a long way from being done with the Star Wars universe. I have a feeling in a year or so, we’ll begin seeing publicity for a new trilogy, with new characters and stories but taking place in that same far, far away galaxy. We’re likely to get a few more side trips such as Rogue One, a war movie disguised as a Star Wars movie, and Solo, a western disguised as a Star Wars movie. I’ll keep myself available for when they do a musical disguised as a Star Wars movie – perhaps a feature length expansion of The Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978. Until then, we’ll simply have to watch The Mandalorian and trade Baby Yoda memes on Facebook.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, by all means, run out and see The Rise of Skywalker on the big screen. It won’t look the same on home video. If you’re not or have never seen the rest of the films in the series, it’s not much of a stand alone and you’re likely to be hopelessly confused. Stay home and read a book.

Memory wiping. Androcles and the Lion moment. Log balancing. Spy stabbing. Biomechanical life support systems. Gratuitous Dominic Monaghan. Unsafe boating conditions. Antenna destruction. X-wing levitation. Buried light sabers.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

Image by sipa from Pixabay

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