Rise of Skywalker Star Wars Episode IX Review


STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER:
So, the story of Rey, Finn and Poe crashes to its hectic, contractually-obligated conclusion,
in a finale which feels like it was written by an eight-year-old child with a box of toys. I didn’t hate the film, and I recommend seeing
it if you have any affection for the series at all, but it’s as dumb as a box of hammers,
and not nearly as much fun as it should be. There will be mild spoilers, more so as this
review goes on. It’s the most disappointing Star Wars film
since the prequels, although it also delivers, in its uninspired way, most of what you’re
looking for in a conclusion to this Star Wars saga. If anything, its crime is that it tries to
do too much, packing two films worth of incident into one, and taking no time to develop its
characters. Stuff simply happens, and a whole lot of it. It’s moronic, but that’s not a dealbreaker
for a Star Wars film. Very little of what happens here was set up
in the previous films, and director JJ Abrams wastes a lot of time undoing (rather than
building upon) everything that Rian Johnson set up in the far superior Episode 8: The
Last Jedi. That film now feels like a strange aberration
in the series, as Abrams’ film is more of a sequel to The Force Awakens. If The Force Awakens was JJ Abrams’ attempt
to remake Star Wars, this is his attempt to remake Return of the Jedi. Everyone seems to have turned into their own
action figures since the last movie rather than being real characters. Wicket the Ewok (Warwick Davis) even has a
cameo. But it’s beautiful to look at, gives the main
trio of Rey, Finn and Poe a lot to do together, delivers a reasonable if basic storyline for
Kylo Ren, and provides a thrilling happy ending to this Star Wars trilogy, which is almost
but not quite the ending it deserved. Three years passed inbetween the original
Star Wars films, but Disney has been releasing a new Star Wars feature every year, with some
films being reshot and the directors replaced. Colin Trevorrow was fired from Episode 9 after
the failure of his film The Book of Henry. JJ Abrams returned to direct, but that decision
was somewhat last minute, and the film feels rushed in every possible way. Dana Schwartz on Twitter said, “Most of the
movie felt like the video part of a Star Wars ride, (where) you’re like ‘Woah! They got the real actors!'” It’s a copy of other Star Wars films, bordering
on self-parody. Youtuber Jenny Nicholson compared it to a
fanfiction she’d read by Star Wars novelist Alan Dean Foster, which had sought to undo
everything from The Last Jedi, especially its female characters. The film also undoes all the intelligence
and humor that that film had, and the more interesting direction it seemed to be taking
the series. The film is written by Abrams and Chris Terrio,
who cowrote Batman V Superman and Justice League for Zack Snyder. Batman V Superman is, for me, the worst movie
I’ve ever seen, although it’s hard to know how much any individual writer is to blame
for that. JJ Abrams himself is a slick and skilled filmmaker,
but his films lack character and feel like pastiches of better films. They’re competently made, but basically a
copy of a copy. This is not a dealbreaker for Star Wars either,
since George Lucas was also a pastiche filmmaker, building upon older science fiction traditions,
westerns, adventure films, and the samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa. But George Lucas is also a weirder and more
original filmmaker than he’s usually given credit for. The Star Wars prequels showed his shortcomings
in terms of writing and pacing and directing actors, but were also full to bursting with
new ideas. I missed that feeling in JJ Abrams’ The Force
Awakens, which was content to merely rehash ideas from the original Star Wars, in a bland
and unchallenging package. I felt the same here. Abrams’ work is slicker and less embarrassing
than Lucas’ prequels, but it also plays it safe, repeating familiar ideas and designs
which were proven to work in previous films. I was undecided about The Force Awakens and
its characters until I saw its impact on social media. Younger fans and women loved and connected
with the new characters like Rey, Finn and Poe. While the original Star Wars trilogy is a
contender for the most successful and influential motion picture event of all time, it also
has a problem with women characters. Princess Leia Organa is a great, vivid lead,
but she’s also the only important female character in the films. Only one other woman has any lines in the
1977-1983 films. Luke’s Aunt Beru has a couple of lines in
the first Star Wars. An unnamed tech on Hoth has a line in Empire. Rebel leader Mon Mothma has a few lines in
Jedi. That’s it. (Camie and an “old woman” were cut from Star
Wars, and a couple of female pilots cut from Jedi. Oola has some non-English speech, as do some
singers in the Special Edition.) It’s also a very white universe, with the
exception of Lando Calrissian. It’s no surprise then that many audiences,
especially young women, had a hard time connecting with the films. Leia being the only woman of any consequence
set an unfortunate precedent which other franchises would repeat in the 1980s. While women make up 50% of the population,
it was enough for most kids’ franchises to have one woman in the entire main cast. She might be dressed in pink at all times,
and being a woman might be her only character trait. Some franchises have two, but women are always
outnumbered. In real life Carrie Fisher was a whip-smart
and funny writer, more interesting than the character she played. The “Leia Effect” seemed to break the brains
of every generation that followed. Any attempt to add more women, or add ethnic
diversity, or add LGBT characters, is met with a huge backlash. A cast made up entirely of straight white
men is seen as “natural” and “normal” and patriotic, and anything else is seen as “forced
diversity” and a sign of insidious forces trying to change our culture. For a lot of very loud people on the internet,
there are two genders: male and political. For them, there are two races: white and political. There are two sexualities: heterosexual and
political. This is, of course, white nationalism. It should be surprising that a series whose
bad guys are British Space Nazis has attracted white nationalist fans, but the hero’s journey
of Luke Skywalker has white exceptionalism baked into it, if only accidentally. Luke is a white guy who is apparently the
most special and important character in the universe because of his bloodline and who
his father is (a famous Space Nazi). Luke is a very normal and recognizable hero
archetype (seemingly named after Lucas himself). He’s not a tough guy. Luke is a nerd who wins, to an extent, by
embracing mindfulness, non-violence and compassion. The only problem is that Star Wars was massively
influential and many heroes afterward tried to be like Luke Skywalker (with elements of
the cocky Han Solo or Indiana Jones thrown in). George Lucas was already consciously imitating
films from the 40s and 50s, which were not great for diversity and representation. Star Wars’ influence was an excuse for films
in the 80s and 90s to be equally “old fashioned.” Lucas had considered making Luke Skywalker
female, an idea not explored until Rey in 2015. Rey is the Jedi hero of the sequel trilogy,
played by poise and restraint by Daisy Ridley. She is the main character. And that does make a difference. George Lucas’ prequel films had more female
supporting characters than the original trilogy did, but that’s a low bar, and easy to overlook
since the films are bad, and because the character of the most importance fits the Leia trope. That is of course Padme Amidala, played blandly
by Natalie Portman. Because of George Lucas’ obsession with black
and whites films, the prequel films were also pretty bad with ethnic diversity, introducing
lots of alien characters who sound like your racist uncle doing a funny voice. The Trade Federation aliens sound like asian
stereotypes, and the dopey Jar Jar Binks sounds and acts rather like a 40s black servant stereotype. Actor Ahmed Best got a lot of hate for the
role and deserves better. It mattered that Finn, the black ex-Stormtrooper
played by British actor John Boyega, is the hero with a lightsaber on the Force Awakens
poster, even if the films never seem to have much idea what to do with him. They pair him off with a different romantic
interest each film, and his storylines rarely seem to finish what they start. He does have his own antagonists, like Gwendoline
Christie’s underused Captain Phasma (who doesn’t appear this film), and gets a lot across as
an actor without saying much- helpful in such frenetic scenes. For me, Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron
didn’t come across as much of a character in The Force Awakens (a standard problem for
JJ Abrams), but the next two films feature him very heavily. Before that fans filled in the blanks, based
on hints in the performance. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega were happy to
suggest that Finn and Poe’s friendship was really a romance. But The Last Jedi separates them, and Rise
of Skywalker doesn’t go there at all. It introduces new, underdeveloped female love
interests for both Finn and Poe whose storylines are left hanging. So is Finn’s apparent desire to tell Rey he
loves her, or the hints that Finn may be Force-sensitive. It feels like the film is working overtime
to avoid not just gay romance, but also interracial romance, which isn’t a good look. Youtuber Jenny Nicholson said, “In the ending
scene Poe and Finn could’ve kissed on the mouth and it would have resolved their storylines.” You can take that as a joke, but it wasn’t
one to many viewers. Oscar Isaac has taken to mentioning this in
every interview, saying that he fought for Poe’s bisexuality. It’s not too out of line- the filmmakers of
Solo considered Lando to be bisexual. In The Last Jedi, Poe Dameron’s storyline
was misunderstood by a huge portion of the audience. He is overconfident and wants to be the hero,
and ignores orders by his superior officer, Laura Dern’s purple-haired Admiral Holdo. Holdo hasn’t told Dameron everything about
her plan, but she also outranks him. He goes behind her back, formulating his own
plan. He is reckless and needs to learn a lesson,
even as Leia and Holdo are secretly grooming him for a leadership role. He is like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back-
impatient and making the wrong decisions. A lot of viewers didn’t understand that, because
they hated the purple-haired woman and paid no attention to what was happening. If anything, Poe Dameron is overused in The
Rise of Skywalker. Oscar Isaac gets to really shine and be charismatic,
since the film has decided he’s taking the roles of both Han Solo and Leia. Keri Russell (from JJ Abrams’ TV series Felicity)
plays Zorii Bliss, who has a history with Poe. They fight in a way which is supposed to show
sexual tension between them. Russell is charming as hell and underused. She never takes off her helmet either. Like Gwendoline Christie in the other films,
they had a popular star actress where the most you see is her (heavily made up) eyes. Her outfit is a little underdesigned but will
make a decent toy. And her story is not resolved enough to be
satisfying. There’s also Naomi Ackles’ Jannah, who doesn’t
get quite enough screentime to be interesting. She connects with Finn because they have the
same backstory, and the ending tries to (sorry for spoilers) pair her off with Billy Dee
Williams’ Lando Calrissian. According to comments elsewhere this is setting
up a nonexistent spinoff where they’ll find out he’s her father, and that he already expects
this. This is really rushed and trying to do too
much in about two lines of dialogue, which is not unusual for this film. JJ Abrams himself voices a new droid, D-O,
who has zero charisma compared to even R2-D2 and BB-8, and will not be anywhere near as
popular. Lupia Nyong’o is still voicing Maz Kanata. Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle from Harry
Potter) voices Babu Frik, who is probably the film’s breakout character. Babu is a weird little creature who mostly
says its own name, acts like a tattoo artist and kills C-3PO. That’s not a spoiler. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux has been a
rival and uneasy partner to Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. With Ren set up as Supreme Leader of the First
Order, there’s a whole film worth of conflict between them, with Kylo Ren being a true villainous
leader but unsure of himself, and Hux looking to undercut and surpass him. This is not that film. The film barely uses Hux at all, largely replacing
him with an older actor, Richard E. Grant as General Pryde. We also don’t see much of Kylo Ren in full
villain mode even temporarily, as the film has a different big-bad villain. What’s criminal here is how the film underuses
and abandons characters and themes set up in the previous films. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a main character
in the last film and love interest for Finn, here has less lines than Yoda, who is not
in this film. A Rose Tico-like role in the story is taken
by the new character, Jannah, who we barely know. Jannah connects with Finn, is tech-savvy,
and rides horses. It looks like Rose’s part was replaced. When Rose Tico is in the scene, her lines
are instead spoken by Merry Brandybuck, a Hobbit character from The Lord of the Rings
series, whose presence here is unexplained. (Dominic Monaghan, who of course appeared
on JJ Abrams’ LOST.) Kelly Marie Tran was chased off of social
media by alt-right trolls who hate that an Asian woman was appearing in Star Wars. This film treats them as if they were right
to do so, showing her character only in cameos as if she’s an embarrassment. That’s also how the prequels treated Jar Jar
Binks, after his badly-received first appearance. Rose Tico was a key character who drove Finn’s
storyline in The Last Jedi. Her storyline, which was widely misunderstood,
included a journey to the casino planet of Canto Bight, showing a different side of the
Star Wars universe and commenting on its income inequality. We got a sense of recognizable real-world
politics, meeting rich war profiteers and realizing that X-Wings and TIE Fighters are
made by the same companies, who don’t particularly care about the difference. We met Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, a cynic who
refused to take a side, except to only care about himself. Rose’s idealism shone brighter by comparison. The right-wing haters despise this section
of the film, but they’ve never admitted it’s because they hate its politics. They’ll simply say it’s boring or out of place. The film ended with Rose saving Finn from
sacrificing himself, and saying the Resistance could win by saving what we love. She loved Finn, and that’s forgotten entirely
here. Rose was basically an ascended extra. She wasn’t a Skywalker or a Solo or a Kenobi. She was a background character becoming a
star, just by caring about Finn and the Resistance. She reflected the recurring theme of The Last
Jedi, that The Force is awakening in the universe and is present in everyone. That anyone could be important. The Last Jedi ends with a little boy with
a broom shown to have Force powers. It confirmed that Rey isn’t a Skywalker or
from any famous family. She’s nobody, but she’s powerful. It’s a statement similar to the ending of
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which said that anyone can wear the mask and be a hero,
and was setting up something similar to how Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended, with thousands
of Slayers being awakened. It was a statement against the white supremacy
that had been accidentally inherent to the Skywalker narrative. The Last Jedi was a thoughtful film which
deepened all its characters and hinted at a much more interesting and philsophical route
the series could have taken. The Rise of Skywalker undoes almost everything
that The Last Jedi did. A lot of viewers didn’t understand The Last
Jedi, and I don’t think JJ Abrams understood The Last Jedi either. Certainly, this is a film for people who didn’t
understand The Last Jedi, and it’s baffling to watch for that reason. It has none of the brains and none of the
humor. It treats Admiral Holdo’s entire plot line
as a “plot hole,” just like all the haters said on Reddit. Merry mentions her heroic, suicidal sacrifice
as “the Holdo maneuver,” a fan term, and is dismissed. Someone said this film couldn’t be more disrespectful
to Rian Johnson if it had been motion-smoothed. I’d heard that 90% of the film was just characters
running into a scene, shouting some piece of expository dialogue explaining what’s happening,
and running out. That’s an overstatement, but not by much. There’s a scene like that where Finn and Poe
run in to rescue their furry friend, and I couldn’t help but notice that the expository
dialogue was unnecessary and would have been replaced by jokes in any other Star Wars film. Abrams came from a Hollywood family. He’s happy to believe the notion that some
people are born for greatness and others aren’t. There’s not much here that’s funny, apart
from a general feeling of the three leads having some chemistry in their banter and
talking over one another. There’s also not much that’s deep in terms
of character acting. The tension between Rey and Kylo Ren is still
great to watch, as the actors play it intensely, but they’re action-figure shadows of their
former selves. As in fanfiction versions of the film (like
Alan Dean Foster’s), the movie is too obsessed with older characters, and with the past. It gives no time for the characters this trilogy
has set up like Hux, Rose, Maz, Connix and Wexley, and does little with new characters
like Jannah and Zorii. At least Rey, Finn, and Poe get plenty to
do. Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian finally
returns, though the film has no idea what to do with him, other than have him repeat
his basic role from Return of the Jedi. Denis Lawson’s Wedge Antilles also returns,
for I think only one shot, as does Nien Nunb. John Williams has a cameo, and turns in his
usual good work on the music, for presumably the last time. There are also no less than fifteen voice-only
cameos from the previous Star Wars films and cartoon series. I would love to know the backstory behind
this, and who came back to record new material and why. Other characters return too, in increasingly
farfetched ways. Carrie Fisher’s Leia was underused in the
previous films, but was supposed to have a larger role here before she tragically passed
away. She gets a lot of screentime here regardless,
with unused footage from The Force Awakens repurposed in many awkward scenes. It’s as if Carrie Fisher suddenly forgot how
to act, and everyone else is acting around her, and finishing her storylines for her
in an awkward fashion. That sums up the basic feeling that this film
is sort of a zombie of itself, repeating ideas from previous Star Wars films. Even the CGI version of Leia from Rogue One
seems to return. The film is overloaded by the history of the
previous Star Wars films. It’s haunted by ghosts, in a very literal
way. It also plays out like fanfiction, with batshit-crazy
twists at every turn, masking how boring the film is otherwise. Anyone with Force powers is wildly overpowered
in this film, in particular Rey and Kylo Ren, and the villain. The film comes up with new, previously-unseen
Force powers about once every ten minutes. They’re basically superheroes. Only in a fanfiction would you read something
as crazy as “Rey is the Emperor (Empress Palpatine!) and during a mind battle with Kylo Ren she
blows up Chewbacca with hand lightning.” Or, “C-3PO becomes an evil Sith Lord for exactly
one minute.” Both of which describe scenes in this film. I’m sorry if those are spoilers, but you’ve
read this far. I could describe a lot of scenes in this film
and sound like I was kidding. As I said, it feels very much like the film
was written by an eight-year-old playing with action figures. In truth, I think the writers were trying to
please as many people as possible and make it feel as much “like Star Wars” as possible,
and in the process created a hot mess because they had no larger philosophical or character
ideas. People complained that Rey was overpowered
simply because she’s a woman, but in this film she genuinely is far more powerful than
we’ve seen a Jedi be before. Kylo Ren destroyed his helmet in the past
film, as a sign of his changing character, but rebuilds it in time for this film. The unexplained villain Snoke is explained
here, and it’s disappointing. There’s a scene which seems to make fun of
(or criticize) the first scene of The Last Jedi, where Luke throws his lightsaber away. (Although, hey, the lesson of that film was
that Luke was wrong to do so.) We find out that Rey is not a “nobody,” and
she fights a familiar villain. Since it’s been in marketing I guess it’s
not a spoiler to say that Emperor Palpatine is back, once again played delightfully by
Ian McDiarmid. There was no setup for this in the previous
films, no hint that he was still around in any form. And that was important to set up. McDiarmid first appeared in Return of the
Jedi, but the Emperor character had appeared in The Empire Strikes Back and been hinted
at in Star Wars. Here there’s no setup. In fact, the opening crawl of the film seems
to skip over what could have been (and should have been) twenty minutes of actual scenes. Remember the bizarre opening crawl from Revenge
of the Sith? “War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by
the ruthless Sith Lord, Count Dooku. There are heroes on both sides.” This crawl is similarly baffling. “The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast,
a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late Emperor Palpatine.” This references an event which happened exclusively
as part of the video game Fortnite. I’m still not kidding. Once you get used to his presence in this
film, Emperor Palpatine is a hoot as usual. Ian McDiarmid has been a highlight in every
Star Wars film he’s appeared in. It’s just strange that this film spends so
much time retreading old ideas with old characters. The film would be improved if Palpatine was
lying about Rey’s parentage. Unforgivably, this film erases the character
of Rose Tico. It all but argues that alt-right trolls were
right to harass Kelly Marie Tran off of social media. Rose’s likeness appeared on prototypes of
various merchandise for this film, but she was erased from the final merchandise. Poe and Finn are rude to each other for no
reason and both get new love interests in stories which don’t resolve. Fans who saw a romance between Finn and Poe
get a whole film denying that, which isn’t surprising. But since we recently got a very gay reboot
of She-Ra, the fans weren’t wrong to expect more. There is a gay kiss here, of two minor female
characters. Blink and you’ll miss it. Just like how technically there is a female
pilot in Return of the Jedi, but you’re not supposed to know that. Fans who saw a romance between the conflicted
hero Rey and the conflicted villain Kylo Ren were harassed for believing that, even though
the films have never been subtle about that subtext. If you’re watching these films specifically
for that romance, you’ve been rewarded for most of the running time of all three films. “But Rey is probably a Skywalker!” people
shouted. “They’re probably siblings and he’s evil and
you’re sick!” Well, sorry for spoilers, but that romantic
subtext is still very present here. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are still terrific
at playing that subtext, and most of what’s good about this film hinges around that. And after The Last Jedi, which established
that Rey was not from any “famous” family and was “nobody,” it would be deeply stupid
for this film to end with her saying she’s “Rey Skywalker” as ghosts of Luke and Leia
smile at her. Then again, this is a deeply stupid film. I do feel like the Rey and Kylo Ren storyline
is one part of this film that really delivers on what fans of this trilogy wanted, but there’s
already a wide range of reactions to all that. Merchandise showed Adam Driver’s character
in a different outfit that never appeared onscreen, possibly something they shot for
the ending but didn’t use. It’s very possible that any more interesting
ideas here were whittled away by Disney executives and the need to sell toys and video games
and make billions of dollars. It’s also possible that JJ Abrams didn’t have
any particularly challenging ideas to begin with, and was happy to make “a movie that
feels like Star Wars,” which is what he did with The Force Awakens. And there’s something to be said for that,
certainly. Audiences want a movie which feels like Star
Wars, and isn’t too weird or off-putting. The original design sensibilities of the first
trilogy are timeless and still work today, so why fix what’s not broken? But this film could have used more original
ideas and a more original filmmaker than that, and it’s a crime that Abrams and Rian Johnson
didn’t cowrite the script here. The film tries to do too much, blowing two
films’ worth of plot in one. It wastes time undoing what the previous film
accomplished and providing more extended cameos for the original trilogy cast. It’s flat, humorless and mostly but not entirely
joyless to watch. It follows very standard screenplay structure. Which is standard because it works, and the
film wouldn’t work without it. It doesn’t do much with character arcs beyond
the obvious. I saw the film in a packed theater. One or two people were clapping throughout. Everyone else was quiet. It’s better than the prequels in most respects,
and entertaining enough that no one should be too embarrassed about it. But it’s not as good as it should have been. So now Rian Johnson gets to do an Episode
X which undoes everything JJ Abrams just did, right? That’s how this works now, right?

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