Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Spoiler Free Review

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes with so much baggage it actually feels difficult to write a full review after my initial viewing.

I came out with some hugely conflicting feelings, so rather than a fully considered review, this might best be considered a collection of immediate, post-screening thoughts.

The film, of course, is the conclusion not only to this most-recent Disney backed trilogy (comprising The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), but it also concludes the entire Skywalker saga (preceded by the films in the Prequel and Original trilogies).

Many fans will, I suspect, find The Rise of Skywalker to be a hugely satisfying ending to the nine film cycle, as returning director J.J. Abrams and his team play far safer than The Last Jedi’s controversial Rian Johnson and pack the film to the rafters with many fan-pleasing elements. Perhaps too many.

And this seems to have been done to the detriment of a cohesive movie, as Rise lacks a certain elegance in narrative to play very episodically, with MacGuffins galore leading our heroes from one set piece to the next.

While Johnson seemed determined to use his film to kill off certain elements of past Star Wars films to suggest a new future path, Abrams and co have apparently paid careful attention to the howls of outrage over this approach from the hordes of man babies and over-entitled toxic fans and dialed back on this by making a film about resurrecting the dead. And boy, do the dead rise up in this film. Literally and figuratively.

There are tantalising glimpses of a thematic element, present in all three films of the Disney trilogy, of the Rebellion against the evil Empire spreading out beyond the usual resistance fighters and causing “the people” to find the will to rise up against their oppressors, but it’s almost too casually thrown away here, and not developed strongly enough to add depth to the narrative. A definite missed opportunity which could have given these films a far greater resonance.

It’s also difficult to see that these films were created with a firm road map, rather each feels like a reaction to the previous film, and so this might just be the least satisfying trilogy, thematically and in terms of overall arcs.

The trilogy leads (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac and Adam Driver) all do excellent work, even when their roles are not developed as well as we might have hoped – yes Finn, I’m looking at you. Personally, I’d like to have seen more emphasis on Boyega, who the camera loves, than on time spent with the introduction of a pointless droid or even (sorry, Bill Dee Williams), the largely irrelevant Lando Calrissian.

The film deals pretty sensitively with the death of Carrie Fisher and just about manages to give Princess Leia/General Organa a useful role and an emotional send-off. No mean feat, under the sad circumstances.

And, as mentioned previously, there are (many) nods to fans of all three trilogies (and event offshoots like Star Wars: Rebels), familiar faces and voices and callbacks, visually and thematically, that this mostly works as a wrap-up of the saga with a big bow on it. And of course, much of this may play well on repeated viewings, but it might have been a stronger film had it concentrated on finding its own identity instead. In fact, I’m not sure I could see the film working for newcomers to the saga, and those resistant to the charms of George Lucas’ creation will find nothing to persuade.

Now all this sounds as if I didn’t have a good time. I did, and will almost certainly enjoy revisiting The Rise of Skywalker. As a fan, I can say it certainly leaves the characters where I might have expected them to end up. And, as with all Abrams films, it moves like a bullet and looks beautiful. There’s also a rather nice coda which plays against the expectations of a vocal area of fandom with a central character, and leaves us with a touching return to the saga’s beginning.

Perhaps the film simply had too much baggage to be the conclusion of over forty years of filmmaking, or perhaps my own baggage won’t allow me to enjoy it for what it is.

Right now, however, I’m satisfied but lacking that triumphant, gleeful feeling something with less reliance on its own past might have left me with.

The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Is Here!

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If ever there was an instance of me not needing to write a single thing for a piece, I guess this is it – the teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker…

Just launched at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, this teaser will be sure to have us all speculating like crazy, I know I already am.

We’ll discuss the film in more detail when a fuller trailer hits, but for now let’s just gear ourselves up for December and the end of the nine film Skywalker saga.  But hey, BILLY DEE WILLIAMS AS LANDO CALRISSIAN, EVERYBODY!

Star Wars opens on December 19th.

“This Is Not Going To Go… The Way You Think!” – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler Free Review)

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“This is not going to go… the way you think!”

Luke Skywalker’s ominous words, highlighted in the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, could easily stand as the film’s throughline.

The overwhelming message of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is that families are complicated and move in unexpected directions. It also has a lot to say about being screwed up by our fathers.

Overwhelming also accurately describes what I felt about the film at the end of its two and a half hour journey. It’s somewhat overlong but it features some astonishing action sequences, is one of the visually richest Star Wars films and contains what might be my single favourite moment from the entire franchise.

In many ways, The Last Jedi mirrors both the darkness and structure of the Original Trilogy’s middle film, The Empire Strikes Back, but writer and director Rian Johnson is smart enough to take off into some truly wild new directions during the final third.

Picking up right where The Force Awakens left us, this new installment hits the ground running and the pace barely lets up. The expanding group of characters, old and new are pretty successfully juggled so that everyone is given satisfying arcs, this particularly benefits Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron, and Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill as Leia and Luke. Daisy Ridley continues to command the screen, especially in her dealings with Adam Driver, their interactions are electric.

John Boyega gets to play off new-to-the-franchise Kelly Marie Tran – both of who are great value but unfortunately shuffled into the film’s weakest thread – a trip to a casino world that’s given a decent barbed comment on the social structure of the Star Wars galaxy but feels rather unnecessary, structurally, and also, dare I say it, feels rather like an outtake from the dreaded Prequels. Indeed, this thread also manages to waste the always welcome presence of Benecio Del Toro.

While Johnson’s generosity to give everyone breathing room is commendable it does also see The Last Jedi surrender some of Empire’s structural elegance in favour of a more scattershot approach that leaves the film feeling a little overstuffed.

Still, this is a film with more on its mind than just rehashing the franchise for a new generation or showing off special effects. The relationship dynamics established are nicely developed, and not all in ways you might be expecting, Johnson keeps things surprising, and manages that to the very last frames. The Last Jedi is drenched in darkness but garnished with light and hope.

The consequences of familial actions, in particular those of fathers, is a deep running vein through the film, but it also suggests that family finds its own shape and can be forged in new ways.

Alongside all the drama Johnson gives us breathless action and some of the most gorgeous filmmaking and visuals of the series, using the colour red to particularly strong effect. An opening space battle and a dizzying lightsabre battle are among the highlights.

There are lots of callbacks (visually and thematically) to both Empire and Return of the Jedi, and a beautiful closing moment for one character which returns us right to the heart of Star Wars (Episode IV). To say any more would involve spoilers, but suffice to say there are some big emotional pay-offs.

As I mentioned before, The Last Jedi also features a sequence, possibly my favourite of the franchise, so balls-out audacious that it more than makes up for any deficiencies the film might have. You’ll know it when it arrives, a moment so glorious and exciting it will leave you very happy that Johnson is forging the future of Star Wars with his upcoming new trilogy.

I’m not certain The Last Jedi is quite the masterpiece many have been proclaiming, it’s too inelegant for that, but it’s eager to please and will leave you exhausted as you emerge from the cinema. It’s a shot of pure Star Wars adrenaline.

Like family, The Last Jedi is messy and doesn’t go the way you think. Ultimately though, you can’t help but love it.