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'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' Review: The Rise of Retcon

Lawrence Napoli Posted: 12/24/2019 - 13:03 COMMENT
'Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker' Review: The Rise of Retcon

The Rise of Retcon

A Film Review of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The legacy of the Star Wars sequel trilogy is a cautionary tale of what results from the film production of a beloved intellectual property when not enough hard work, tough choices and legitimate time are put into planning such an undertaking. A shattered fan base, blame being thrown at corporate overseers checking boxes, creators going rogue for agendas and falling short of the almighty box office are but a few results of the Disney-owned installments to the Star Wars mythology. These haven’t done much to bolster brand confidence, optimize profitability or appease the shareholders, but of course, the fact that these issues are part of the aesthetic critique further illustrates the fundamental weakness of manufactured storytelling.

The Rise of Skywalker is writer/director J.J. Abrams’ Hail Mary to salvage the ruins of The Last Jedi built upon the shallow foundation of The Force Awakens because the business of Star Wars is at risk (yeah, right). Thus, Bad Robot was tasked with reconciling the previous films while making the third an explosion of visceral satisfaction that would reunite the global audience in blind devotion, singing and dancing the praises of all things Star Wars back on Endor with the Ewoks. This did not happen in Episode IX. What the audience actually gets exposed to is a handful of legitimately interesting ideas eclipsed by a healthy dose of pandering, fan-service topped off with a thick layer of unearned, ham-fisted plot resolution because J.J. needed to “fix” as much as he could from the previous film in as little time as possible. All he needed to do was sacrifice the overall cohesion, relevance and dramatic buildup of this story. Mission accomplished.

Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker Review

This film is a relentless progression of convenient circumstances that are as miraculously solved as they are manifested, but the audience doesn’t have time to ponder why because there’s another visually impressive set-piece to get to, or an uninspired lightsaber fight to endure or some new irrelevant characters to introduce. There’s no time for character development save for Rey and Kylo, but even that relationship culminates in a randomly awkward fashion. There’s even less time for drama save for this film’s emotional peak featuring a scene with Chewbacca that would extract tears from a stone. With so little time given to these moments in a film where an audience could connect with story or character, one questions the wisdom of all the time spent throwing stimuli at the audience. In film, as in life, one makes time for what is important and it is clear that Episode IX chose and chose poorly to give itself to spectacle and disregard substance.

These critiques are merely burdens for the viewer interested in a story that makes sense as opposed to making it up as it goes. If one’s threshold for film is more aligned with the aforementioned twitch stimuli, then Episode IX has plenty of visual effects, CG, lasers, guns, knives and sharp sticks to feast on. Locations constantly change, so scenery never gets boring. Everyone is running all the time, so there’s plenty of movement within the frame as well as dynamic cinematography to capture said motion. Rounding all that up with standard-issue Star Wars explosions, crashes and light speed jumps; action fans will be entertained. Perhaps this is the best that blockbuster genre films can aspire to these days?

Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker Review

Action Style

There’s a lot of action in this entire film and the best examples are featured in space flight/combat and running/chasing sequences. Lightsaber combat is, unfortunately, weaker than previous installments. The diminishing relevance of the action to the story doesn’t help matters much. Still, points for volume.

5/6

Action Frame

Dan Mindel knows how to capture CG action. His framing is sharp and as dynamic as the action within it. However, there is a strong reliance on medium and close up shots during action sequences which is usually employed to mask less than impressive choreography and stunt work, but it never becomes distracting like a Transformers combat sequence.

4/5

Lead Performance

This film, as well as this trilogy, is meant to be Daisy Ridley’s journey as Rey. Independent of the character’s shortcomings as a Mary Sue, Ridley delivers humanity and vulnerability while coming up a bit short in camaraderie and leadership. Everyone keeps screaming the praises of Adam Driver’s acting ability which may be abundant in his other films but have been limited to sheepish looks and petulant outrages in the sequel trilogy. Thankfully, his character was asked to calm down a bit and put on his big boy pants in Episode IX, but Kylo Ren’s manic nature is exhausting and the only way Driver can anchor his performance is with the old reliable deer-in-the-headlights.

3/6

Supporting Performance

I appreciate the energy and effort of Oscar Isaac as Poe and John Boyega as Finn, but their characters are woefully underused and the audience only catches glimpses of what else they can do beyond pushing Rey to her next objective. Domhnall Gleeson does a fine job cementing Hux as the eternal punching bag that character was always written to portray. Richard E. Grant’s General Pryde is fine, but too little too late and Ian McDiarmid is a blast as the Emperor.

2/5

Music

John Williams: living legend AND he makes a cameo appearance in this film. Are the orchestrations in Episode IX not as iconic or epic as in previous Star Wars films? Yes. Does that detract from the cinematic adventure? No.

5/6

Sound F/X

The sound work from a technical perspective is once again reflective of the professionalism of sound designer and editor David Acord. My continued criticism of the sequel trilogy is with composition choices given to iconic Star Wars sounds such as lightsabers and blasters which are muffled and reserved compared to the screaming resonance of the prequel and original trilogies.

3/5

“Moving” = 22/33

Digital F/X

CG and visual effects overall are fine, but they seem to want to come out to play in low light (space or night) settings, which is used to mask flaws that look slightly off in the third act. The digital imagery of Carrie Fisher to insert Leia into this film was decent for the limited footage they had, but wasn’t great and at times distracting. Spaceship combat was great looking fun.

3/6

Special F/X

Episode IX seemed a bit more reliant on digital as opposed to practical effects. Practical effects feature prominently in creature animation such as Babu Frik, an instant fan favorite as well as in ground combat shootout sequences.

3/5

Costumes

Michael Kaplan outdid himself as the costume designer. Characters look great with distinct design choices that make sense and no one looks like they’re wearing a mailed-in, burlap sack because that character might not be as important as others.

6/6

Hair & Makeup

I get Rey is not meant to be a fashion icon and her hairstyles are meant to be more practical, but I would have liked to see a changeup. Can we get Kylo some Head and Shoulders? Just a quick wash maybe?

3/5

Exteriors

The Burning Man concert planet was a fun splash of color amidst the backdrop of desert and mountain browns. The resistance base planet harkens back to the lush jungles of Yavin-4. The Death Star graveyard in the sea is reminiscent of the cloner planet of Kamino. Wow, J.J. really was shameless about copying the glory of Star Wars past.

5/6

Interiors

The one area that continues to impress is the set design choices for First Order ships and bases that reflect a thematically correct upgrading of technical sleekness befitting a galaxy dominating force. It’s a shame the rest of the galaxy is still stuck on the shabby chic of A New Hope.

3/5

“Picture” = 23/33

Hook

When is an inciting incident not an inciting incident? When it’s revealed in the title crawl. Seriously, J.J. couldn’t be bothered to show the thing that apparently puts the First Order murdering the Resistance on pause because there’s a new player on the field? While the hook itself isn’t particularly inspired and reeks of desperation, it literally does not exist in the film, therefore …

0/4

Conflict

ReyLo’s dueling identity crisis is the only source of real drama here as the mirroring strain between light and dark continues to evolve for them both. The problem is where The Last Jedi opened the door and put the wrench time into exploring it, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t invest enough screen time to see it through properly because the nonsensical First Order vs. Resistance conflict needs as much attention.

2/4

Resolution

A significant effort was made to button up as many subplots as possible while completely ignoring more significant ones like what did Finn want to tell Rey and where did Maz find Luke’s lightsaber? Using a contrived plot device to resolve ReyLo felt like a cheap trick and the little extra thing between them at the end was worthy of flipping all the virtual tables.

1/4

Dialogue

With the exception of two to three dedicated moments of drama, ALL the dialogue in this film degenerates into exposition and pushing scene transition. “We gotta do this to find that to go there,” is a conceptual loop for the film’s duration. Where’s all the fun character interplay? Oh wait, there’s no time for that. All utility, zero character.

1/6

Exposition

Just because there’s a lot of information necessary to get the audience to buy into the plot doesn’t mean it’s done particularly well. This story is banking on the audience getting overwhelmed by the superfluous and constant info dump. Otherwise, the audience’s expectations get blown up by the minefield of plot holes left in the wake of the expository tsunami.

1/5

Character Uniqueness

Every character, save for Kylo, inhabit the exact same roles and archetypes as they were introduced in The Force Awakens. New characters are fodder for the fodder.

2/6

Character Relatability

I like that Kylo Ren has found his calm place and isn’t the whiny, little, bisnatch he’s been all series long. Finally some growth! Also, his individual dramatic moment was nice to see. Is Rey’s motivation to still be here boil down to Space Jesus not having anything better to do? Yep, pretty much.

2/5

“Story” = 9/34

Star Wars The Rise Of Skywalker Review

Overall MPS Rating: 54/100

I did not like The Rise of Skywalker. However, I did not have the same vitriol for this film during the end credits as I did for The Last Jedi because that film was too focused on setting the mythology on fire while paying little attention to the husk of a story it left behind. While I agree with the message of this film reflecting the legacy of the Skywalker story being “we choose who we want to be,” its execution is fumbled and bumbled throughout this film and this sequel trilogy. Some may apologize for J.J. for doing the best he could with the handfuls of ash Rian Johnson left him, but he is as much to blame for the situation as anyone else thanks to weak choices made in the very beginning with The Force Awakens.

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