Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The nine film Star Wars saga is now complete (for the time being). The Rise of Skywalker has a lot to tackle and resolve and the results are unsurprisingly mixed. Fans (and some critics) have a primal attachment to these films. A disappointing Star Wars film will trigger musings on childhood ending, while a good Star Wars episode may promise a new hope. Regardless of fan reaction, all nine of the films and their spin off stories are designed as adventures to inspire the imagination of young people. We tend to like or dislike these films based not on what they are, but on what they're not. Many will nitpick on Rise of Skywalker for what it's not, yet it passes for a space adventure film better than most, albeit with diminishing returns.

The trajectory of this sequel trilogy has followed that of the original. Like the original 1977 Star Wars, The Force Awakens for a brief moment rekindled a sense of adventure and mystery to a moribund franchise. The Last Jedi challenged audiences and offered some complexity much along the lines of The Empire Strikes Back. Rise of Skywalker resembles Return of the Jedi which concluded the original trilogy on a jaunty note, but eschewed the complexity of Empire.  

The story begins year or two after Last Jedi. The Resistance is still running on fumes as the First Order continues to conquer the galaxy. Rey is honing her Jedi skills with Leia. Poe and Finn try to rally the resistance as Kylo Ren tries to increase his power. Footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens allowed the saga to give her character a moving conclusion. Billy Dee Williams returns as Lando to represent the original trilogy as the old sage. Meanwhile, Emperor Palpatine (dispatched in Return of the Jedi) is somehow back in the picture

J.J. Abrams returned as director and moves things at a frantic pace, a pace so fast the movie starts to feel sluggish. There's way too much sleight of hand and bait and switch going on with the plot. When Abrams tries to take chances, the film suddenly backtracks and lets you know everything will be fine. The visual rhyming of The Force Awakens had a charm, here it gets exhausting. 

The film works better on the micro level. The principals Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega all gave it their best. They bring a nervous humor and manage to stretch their characters a bit, but not all that much. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is given a good arc, but under utilized. The cast contributed a lightness of tone to all the plot shenanigans. 

Rise of Skywalker is weighed down by the loaded history of Star Wars. The Last Jedi was all about letting the old ways die, but Rise of Skywalker cannot extract itself from the baggage of the past. The result is a remix of familiar Star Wars themes of boilerplate good and evil - concluding the saga on an uncertain beat. 

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