STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – TO Set the stage for my thoughts on the rise of skywalker, to help you decide if my review is informative, it is helpful to know what informs my viewing experience.
I go into a film having avoided reviews, or special features, or tirades, or predictions, or pontifications or guesses on what it should be. Beyond the first teaser trailer, for a movie I know I am going to see, I avoid all subsequent trailers, there is no need for them, I know I am going to see the movie.
So I go into a film, as much as humanly possible, there to see the film the filmmaker decides to make, and not hoping to see the idea of a film I have made up in my head.
So off the bat, I liked THE RISE OF SKYWALER. My barometer always being at the end of the film… am I glad I saw this film in the theater? Answer? Yes.
And this is coming from someone who saw the film at a Cinebistro, with spacious selected/premium seating, and meals brought to you. For the two of us it came to about a $140 for movie, meals and drink, and tip. Now obviously for a cheapskate like me who prefers $4 matinees, this is not something I am going to indulge in more than 2 or 3 times a year, and only for special movies. At the end of the day, I liked the film and am glad I saw it in the theater, however I did not love the film.
I think a lot of times when people rail against a film, or say they dislike or hate a film ( not a word I would use for a film, hate is a word best left toward things that have raped and pillaged real things in a real world. First worlders using the word hate, for as innocuous a thing as film, have lived a very small life. Applying words out of proportion to the impetus); a lot of times what they are really saying is, that the film is not the film they were expecting, or hoped for, or wanted.
Whether a politician, or a group, or a show, or a book, or a movement, a lot of times, when we choose to dislike a thing it is less about that thing being good or bad, than it is about that thing not being a reflection of our prejudices. Not wearing our colors, or speaking with our voice, or laughing to our jokes, or sharing our choices.
A lot of it is about something not meeting our expectations.
And in our current always on, and everything preanalyzied, and pontificated on, and second guessed and armchair quarterbacked before it ever comes out, we build up expectations, that fly in the face of actally enjoying the movie.
A lot of times enjoying the movie is about leaving what you want the film to be at the door, and going in just letting the filmmaker tell his story. Allowing them to not be a mindreader and a puppet, and do more than simply regurgitate the fanfiction in your head.
A lot of people confuse nostalgia with quality. “Oh comics today aren’t as good as they were when I was a kid, and movies, and books, and, food, and candy and cartoons”….and as someone who is older than most of you reading this, and have a fond feeling for a lot of things we have deified, the truth is that nostalgia, while comforting to look back on, the past is not necessarily better. I’ll go further, it is not usually better.
The present and the future builds on the past. The 6 minute mile gives way to the 5 minute mile gives way to the 4 minute mile.
We move, in all things, toward a more perfect union. Not all things surely, but as a median, the quality of things have improved in the hundred years from 1920 to 2020.
And in my lifetime, while I love the comic books of Stan and Jack, and Neal Adams and Denny ONeil and Keith Giffen and David Kraft, and some of those books remain masterpieces, as a whole we produce more great books in a month than they cranked out in a year. And yes, our share of bad, but I would argue the general level of craft, of art and storytelling and production is as a whole superior now to then.
And the same goes for film. Nostalgia is fine when we understand it for a feeling and not a formula or a fact, when we understand it is something that is not a barometer of quality, or a map to follow, or to necessarily always steer into.
RISE OF SKYWALKER almost from the first frame is a film that steers into nostalgia and sentiment, and those can be powerful and effective parts of a story when used sparingly, when earned. Here the early parts of the film, feel very… contrived. The humor, and the banter, and the reveal of the big bad, all feels…by the numbers, and … yes contrived, rather than the natural outgrowth of the story.
You never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression, and RISE OF SKYWALKER starts off with a lot of telling, rather than showing. There is a lot of ‘we are going here because of this’, and ‘must do this because of that’. And while that is part of many films, it felt very obvious and clunky here, it felt like the one thing it should never feel like… it felt like exposition.
I like JJ Abrams as a filmmaker. I loved his first STAR TREK, and while a huge fan of his 2nd STAR TREK film, concede that it was marred by his need to wink and steer into nostalgia, at expense of the story he is telling. Here in RISE OF SKYWALKER It feels like he is at times making fan fiction, playing to nostalgia, rather than actually having his own story to tell.
Rian Johnson’s THE LAST JEDI was met, I think, by a small but vocal group who wanted the film to be only nostalgia, and only their expectations, and only well trod ground, and Rian Johnson told a story that moved the needle, and was about change, and about the end of old things. I wholeheartedly think it is a masterpiece, that will stand the test of time. And people forget in all the social media bs, all the tornado in a teapot, that THE LAST JEDI was a box office success.
But we have become a very reactionary society, where the faceless mob, the agenda driven mob, and arguably the talentless mob, wants to be the tail that wags the dog.
RISE OF SKYWALKER to me, feels like JJ Abram to some extent capitulating and trying to appease the nostalgia crowd, as well as his own nostalgia tropes. I was and am a huge fan of the late Carrie Fisher, and that he wanted to honor her with this film, understandable. However for me, again it felt a lot of the scenes shoehorned in, at the expense of a more compelling story-line. To some extent, again to me, THE LAST JEDI used both those characters more compellingly than how they were used here.
RISE at times, besides feeling very long, feels like a list being checked off. I am not qualified and virtually no one reviewing this… is qualified to call this a bad film, any more than anyone is qualified to call any of the recent batch of STAR WARS films bad films.These are master filmmakers, all of them, and most of the people weighing in with opinions have not made a single film. It’s like someone who is not a painter, saying this painting is bad or this painting is good. You can say that a thing works for you, or does not work for you, but barometers about the quality of a product, from someone outside the industy, ill-informed at best.
So full disclosure, I like all the STAR WARS films, with the exception of the prequels. And even those I do not call bad, they just were not for me. Not everything is geared for everyone. For the intended audience of kids, those rightly may be their favorite films.
As someone who does not see the world with rose-colored glasses, or confuse nostalgia with quality, or have an agenda of hate to defend, I can say that the new films I have enjoyed for the most part more than the original trilogy. With the exception of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, which is arguably right up there with THE LAST JEDI as my favorite STAR WARS films.
If you take Nostalgia away from the first STAR WARS film, and compare it warts and all to any of the recent films, the recent films are stronger. They are better shot, better paced, more exciting. And that goes for RISE OF SKYWALKER , which is my least enjoyed of the new films.
That said, while the story JJ Abrams ended up telling I found less compelling than the less formulaic story that Rian Johnson was embarking on, there were some things I greatly liked about RISE OF SKYWALKER. I thought the visuals were stunning. Not as Elegiac and beautiful as THE LAST JEDI, but very close.The battles were stupendous, I liked some of the sentiment, and in moments… it wowed.
So ultimately it was not the movie I would have liked to see, but for what it was, there is a lot of good here, and misgivings about the story-line aside, I overall enjoyed watching it.