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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Force in Focus: The Rise of Skywalker

**Spoilers, of course; if you haven't seen the movie yet, skip this. If you haven't seen the movie but read this anyways, don't yell at me.**



What I Didn't Like

Rey Palpatine
Rey being the Emperor's granddaughter is the dumbest thing since midichlorians.

It's dumb for two reasons, one subjective, one more textual. The first, subjective, reason is that it wipes out the whole notion that anyone can be a hero, that the Force doesn't just manifest itself in people of certain lineages, etc. Thankfully, the film doesn't entirely remove Rey's parentage of thematic meaning (more on that below), but "important lineage" plots are a dime-a-dozen in sci-fi/fantasy (including Star Wars), and "comes from nothing to become the inheritor of the Jedi legacy" would have been something different.

The second is that Palpatine as a character has never, anywhere, prior to this film, been tied in anyway to any kind of familial legacy. Whereas "being a Skywalker" means something in the context of Star Wars, because that family relationship is built into the DNA of the saga "being a Palpatine" means nothing. The entirety of the Anakin/Vader/Luke (and later Ben Solo) thematic arc was built around their familial relationships; all the Emperor has ever canonically cared about is getting and maintaining "unlimited power". Sure, it's entirely within reason that, as the head of the galactic government, he probably had a wife and family in order to maintain his ruse of being a grandfatherly politician, and that his offspring eventually learned the truth about him, fled, hid their child, etc. But that was never even implied, let alone featured, ever before (anywhere in the Star Wars canon, be it film, book, TV show, etc.). Any time someone in the film referred to Rey as "a Palpatine", I wanted to shout at the screen "stop saying that, that's not a thing!". There are no Palpatines; there's just the Emperor. There's more textual familial legacy in Leia's adopted Alderaanian family than in his. Heck, Poe Dameron and Snap Wexley have a larger claim to stories about familial legacy than the Emperor.

The Last Jedi Takedowns 
Finn: Last chance to join us on this adventure, Rose!
Rose: Love to, but some angry manbabies on the internet got upset that an Asian Lady was allowed to do heroic things in the last movie, so the director of this one has asked me to mostly sit this one out.

There were more than a few moments in this movie that felt like JJ Abrams looking at the audience and saying "you didn't like The Last Jedi? That's okay, neither did I!" While Rose getting Jar Jar Binksed is the most egregious, some were innocuous (Charlie from Lost's comment about doing Holdo Maneuvers seems like it was written specifically in response to everyone who was like "why don't they just do that every time?"; it was eye-rolling but not terribly damaging to the film) while others were puzzling (what was the point - thematically, textually, whatever - of Kylo Ren deliberately having his mask be rebuilt, just to wear it for a few scenes, then abandon it offscreen with little fanfare, other than "JJ Abrams thought it was cooler than everyone else did, was mad it got wrecked in Last Jedi, so he's putting it back in this one, consarnit!"?).

Love or hate Last Jedi (and/or this movie), what all these little responses in this movie to things in that movie do, however innocuous or impactful, intentional or not, is really underscore the lack of a cohesive vision for the Sequel Trilogy (which, of course, was true of the Original Trilogy as well, but, a few ultimately incestuous urges & mildly chaste kisses aside, there was less in the OT that underscored that lack of a narrative plan).

Poe's Dark Past 
The first hour or so of the movie is super-fast paced, with the characters bouncing from locale to locale, and sho-horning in a "Poe used to be a spice runner!" subplot does the film no favors (and really doesn't go anywhere; "how Poe knows how to hotwire a speeder is hardly A Question That Must Be Answered).

Chewie's Medal
Chewie receiving a medal from Leia posthumously was clearly meant to be a moving callback and a wink at the fans who made the fact that Chewie didn't get a medal at the end of New Hope a geek cause celebre for a while there), but all I was thinking was "Chewie already got a medal, and he gave it away to a young girl he befriended in a canonical four issue miniseries a few years ago!"

Zori Bliss
Abrams-favorite Keri Russell actually does a really good job of imbuing the character of Zori with a lot of personality despite limited screen-time and spending most of that time in a face-obscuring helmet, but the character seemingly only exists to give Poe someone to flirt with. Her name may as well have been Zori Nohomo.

Finn's Secret
What the heck did Finn want to tell Rey when they were sinking in the sand and thought they were dying, and more importantly, how does a movie like this get away with introducing something like that and then neither following up on it nor make it clear it was left unanswered deliberately?

Making the Metaphoric Literal 
I finally have some sympathy for the people who got really upset by the whole midichlorian business, as this movie does a lot of work to make literal things that were previously more metaphoric. The biggest example is the whole "Diad in the Force" thing - both Force Awakens & Last Jedi made it clear there was a connection between Rey & Kylo Ren, but they largely left it metaphorical; one is light, the other dark, one is a physically related to Luke/Leia, the other spiritually, etc. But here, that connection is made literal, given a specific term, and used as a plot point (and, to be clear, I don't object to the Emperor harnessing their Force powers or whatever to restore himself; he just could have done it without specifically spelling out what he was doing and throwing around terms like "diad in the Force" as if that had ever been uttered anywhere before, ever), thereby robbing it of some of its impact.

Stakes Fatigue
First we had a Death Star that could blow up planets. Then another Death Star that could also blow up ships. Then a Death Star that wipes out whole systems anywhere in the galaxy. Then we saw the Death Star as a teenager. Then a portable Death Star that could shoot through doors. Now we've got Star Destroyers with little Death Star guns that can also blow up planets. I feel like we're two movies away from Death Stars which shoot out little Death Stars, each of which shoots out even littler Death Stars, each of which can blow up a planet.

Like, fine, you want to raise the stakes of Palpatine's hidden fleet heading into the climax, but razing a world through traditional Star Destroyer laser guns (which is what Star Destroyers were supposed to do - fly into a system and bombard a planet into submission without physically obliterating it) would have worked just fine.

No B-wing 
The shot of all the Resistance-affiliated ships coming out of hyperspace (featuring, I believe, the first time the main Star Wars theme played in the context of a movie, and not just over the opening crawl) was pretty awesome/chill-inducing, but I'm still bummed we never really got a good sequence involving a B-wing in action.

What I Liked 

Rey Skywalker
If the whole "Rey is the Emperor's Granddaughter" reveal wiped out the notion that maybe somebody important in the galaxy with Force powers isn't related to one of two people who have dominated the fate of the galaxy for two generations, it at least didn't entirely abandon the concept of found families and the idea that there is more to a who a person is than their blood, represented by Rey affirming herself as a Skywalker, with Ghost Luke and Leia's blessing, in the film's closing moments.

Also, anytime one of these movies does a binary sunset it feels like it's pandering specifically to me, and I am here for that.

The Trio
As frenetically paced as the first hour was, it was loads of fun to see the new main trio of Rey, Finn, and Poe on an adventure together, something that hadn't happened yet in this trilogy (and which happened far less with the OT trio than you may think). I know this is the last film in the Skywalker Saga and all the actors are talking about being done, but I would love to see the Further Adventures of these characters in some context (preferably in a film without "fate of the galaxy" consequences).

Palpatine's Dialogue 
I'm fairly lukewarm on the matter of the return of the Emperor (neither loving nor hating it; I think the marketing of the film had me fully prepared for his return to the point where I never really even gave it much thought while watching it), but it's always a treat to get to watch Ian McDiarmid chew up and spit out scenery, and I especially enjoyed some of the callbacks to Episode III in the dialogue.

Kylo Ren's Physicality
This film was a little light on epic lightsaber duels (Rey & Kylo Ren clashed plenty along the way, but even their final duel on the remains of the second Death Star lacked the gravitas of previous trilogy-ending duels) but I really loved the physicality Adam Driver brought to his fight scenes, the way Kylo Ren would throw his whole body into fights, like when he tore through the forces on Mustafar in the opening scene, or fought the Knights of Ren barehanded towards the end, or the way he dodged all of Rey's lightsaber attacks without drawing his own weapon inside the Death Star before dropping away. It really added a whole new dimension to the fight choreography.

Han & Ben
Harrison Ford popping up as a Not Force Ghost Ghost was a genuine surprise (I had heard nothing about his involvement) and the scene between him and Kylo Ren was a lovely reprise of their TFA bridge scene. I especially loved the way it also called back the Han/Leia "I love you/I know" from Empire, but did it in a way that wasn't screaming "we're reprising the 'I Love You/I Know' call-and-response you have on that t-shirt you bought from Target isn't that great?!?" and how, in doing so, it made familial love a part of that phrasing alongside romantic love.

Reylo
It's hard to say I liked it (I rolled my eyes pretty hard when Rey woke up from being Force healed and kissed Ben), but I'll allow it since Ben died in the end. It would be much worse if they went off to live happily ever after (or, God forbid, Rey died and Ben lived which, for a moment, I feared was the direction the movie was going). I don't exactly love Star Wars' penchant for allowing mass murderers on a galactic scale go out as heroes thanks to having a brief change of heart and then sacrificing themselves to save the main hero, but at this point, I can't exactly only hold that against this movie.

The Music 
As always, John Williams knocks it out of the park, and while this score is, understandably, lighter on the introduction of new themes, it reprises and remixes the existing ones to great effect (appropriate for a film meant to close out a nine-film cycle). If this is Williams' last Star Wars score (and, by all account, it is), he goes out with a bang.

Current Film Rankings
Based on my desire to rewatch a given film at any given time, not based on my estimation of the films' relative objective quality.

Empire - Jedi (Return) - Sith - New Hope - Jedi (Last) - Skywalker - Solo - Force AwakensRogue One - Clones  - Phantom Menace Like what you read? Then support us on Patreon!

7 comments:

  1. That was Mustafar?? Huh.

    Anyway... I liked it. It's pretty easily my favorite in the new trilogy, since -- as I mentioned a while back -- it met my expectations. It checked all the boxes. For some that may feel lazy or uncreative, but for me, there are certain things I want to see and certain feelings I want to experience when I go into a STAR WARS movie, and this one delivered pretty much all of them, unlike LAST JEDI. (THE FORCE AWAKENS delivered a lot of it too, and I never disliked it for being a rehash as much as others did -- but I just like this one more.)

    That said, I did have some issues. I would've liked Rose to join the team. I've never understood all the hate for her. I'm with you on Finn's secret. I feel like something got lost in the editing there, because otherwise none of it makes any sense. I also felt some of the callbacks were a bit much. I agree with you also on the star destroyers with Death Star guns. That's idiotic. Oh, and I wish the "Voices of Jedi Past" hadn't been drowned out by music and SFX to the point you could barely recognize them or tell what they were saying.

    I found it bizarre that Poe just glossed over Leia's call for help at Crait, then did it himself later. He's just like, "We called and no one came!" Then in the big finale, they called again and everyone came. What was different?? I guess Lando really is just that charismatic.

    I also just felt the movie moved way, way too fast -- but since JJ seemed to be trying to do two films in one ("his" Episode VIII plus Episode IX), I guess it's understandable.

    On the other hand, I liked seeing the "trio" in action as well. It occurred to me that this trilogy sort of reversed the original. There, the main three were together in the first movie but separate for most of the second and third. Here, they were separate for the first and second and together for the third.

    I loved seeing Lando back, and I liked when he mentioned accompanying Luke on his earlier quests. Made me think of the Marvel comics you just finished reviewing. I liked the integration of Leia into the movie; they did it about as well as could be hoped for, though I could still tell every time she talked that they were just grabbing lines out of context and building new dialogue around them.

    I really liked Zori. I was particularly happy that they never showed her whole face. Much like THE MANDALORIAN proves (and STAR WARS in general has understood for ages), you can hide a character's face pretty much the entire time and it's not a big deal. I will reiterate that I really, really wish Marvel would figure this out. Anyway, I want a Zori Bliss show on Disney Plus. Preferably with Babu Frik as her sidekick.

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    1. The "she's a Palpatine" thing didn't bother me that much. I mean, he's one of the most powerful Force-users in the galaxy; it stands to reason that if he had offspring, they'd inherit that power as well (in fact what I found odd is that his son apparently didn't inherit it but his granddaughter did). And we don't know for sure that he had a family, as you said, but he was the Emperor -- he could've had a harem of concubines for all we know. I just wish someone would've called him "Darth Sidious" at least once, like Luke did in THE LAST JEDI. And I agree; seeing Ian McDiarmid chewing it up one last time was great. I wish he'd been in the movie more!

      (I also hoped that as he kept sapping power from Rey and Kylo, he'd eventually revert to his prequel appearance, but I understand why JJ froze him in "Emperor" mode -- and the fact that he was wearing red robes under his cloak was sort of a prequel nod, I think.)

      (I also wish that, after Leia said Palpatine had been "in the shadows, pulling the strings the entire time," someone (preferably Dominic Monaghan had followed up with, "Like some sort of... phantom menace!" It would've become the greatest moment in STAR WARS history.)

      One thing I love about the prequels and sequels is that they have retroactively turned Palpatine into the real, one-and-only major villain of the entire saga. Originally it was Darth Vader. You knew the Emperor was his boss, but he was still the bad guy with all the screen time. But now there can be no doubt that Palpatine is the real main villain of the entire saga.

      I don't think there's any rule that says anybody can't use the Force (assuming they have a high enough midichlorian count, of course ;-) ), but when the first movie in the trilogy made a big deal about Rey being "somebody", it was a huge letdown for THE LAST JEDI to go back on it and say that no, she really is a nobody and her parents were losers. JJ said in an interview that he doesn't believe people go into a STAR WARS movie to be told that a thing doesn't matter or isn't important, and I agree with him -- if something is set up as a big secret, it needs to be paid off rather than ignored or swept aside.

      I also appreciated the "Diad in the Force" business. In TLJ, every time something physically moved between Rey and Kylo, I wanted to echo Han in TFA and shout, "That's not how the Force works!" But if they're a rarity and a one-off, then I'm fine with it.

      ...I think that's all I've got for now.

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    2. That was Mustafar?? Huh.

      Per the Visual Guide for the movie, yeah. Apparently, the idea is that one of the Sith Wayfinders was kept in Vader's castle on Mustafar, the other where Rey found it on the second Death Star (ie near Palpatine). Rule of Two and all that.

      Oh, and I wish the "Voices of Jedi Past" hadn't been drowned out by music and SFX to the point you could barely recognize them or tell what they were saying.

      I loved the voices of the Jedi bit (and the fact that they had people like Ahsoka & Kanan in there) but yeah. My first viewing was in IMAX and it was all nearly drowned out; the second time (in a normal theater) they all came through much better.

      I liked when he mentioned accompanying Luke on his earlier quests. Made me think of the Marvel comics you just finished reviewing.

      Me too! I meant to include that in my list. I was fairly meh on Lando's return in general (like, he was fine, and fun to see again, but I would have liked more), but I loved that little tossed-off line about going on a quest with Luke. Reminded me of those post-EMPIRE comics too, and was one of those "lived-in universe" remarks Star Wars does so well.

      Anyway, I want a Zori Bliss show on Disney Plus. Preferably with Babu Frik as her sidekick.

      Ditto. Which, considering how ultimately pointless she was to the plot of this film, is a testament to Keri Russell's performance.

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    3. but he was the Emperor -- he could've had a harem of concubines for all we know.

      Of course, but I wish, if LucasFilm or whomever wanted to bring him back and make Rey his granddaughter, they'd estasblished that somewhere - a comic, a book, whatever. Just something to tease the fact that he was more than a non-sexual Dark Side monster obsessed with power. Even beyond the Skywalkers, the Star Wars universe is lousy with family lineages and stories about generational handoffs, living up to parents' reputations/making a better life for your child, etc. Yet Palpatine has never, in any way, shape or form, been connected to any of that prior to this film.

      Basically, I think what rankles me the most is just how clearly it was not something that was intended from the start (of the Sequel Trilogy, at least), and rather back-filled when someone decided Rian Johnson's answer to the question posed by JJ Abrams in TFA wasn't a good enough answer. And you know how I feel about stories that just get made up as they go along. :)

      the fact that he was wearing red robes under his cloak was sort of a prequel nod, I think.

      I chose to take it as such, too.

      (preferably Dominic Monaghan had followed up with, "Like some sort of... phantom menace!" It would've become the greatest moment in STAR WARS history.

      100% this.

      JJ said in an interview that he doesn't believe people go into a STAR WARS movie to be told that a thing doesn't matter or isn't important, and I agree with him -- if something is set up as a big secret, it needs to be paid off rather than ignored or swept aside.

      True, but people also don't go to a STAR WARS movie to solve a puzzle, but because Abrams is apparently unable to tell a story without teasing out a bunch of mysteries (that he has no actual answers to, because why bother plotting things out when you can just make it up as you go along!), TFA got needlessly turned into one of his puzzle box stories, which STAR WARS never really was. The Vader reveal was shocking because it was twisting established information, not because it was answering a question posed in the first film - but everyone ever since has gone into STAR WARS movies expecting a similar shocking reveal/familial parental twist, and Abrams needlessly played into that in TFA. And yes, I agree, that once posed, the questions needed to be answered but I think one of the reasons I like the "Rey is nobody" answer in TLJ is that it both answers the posed question (technically if unsatisfyingly) but also, in the way it answers it, is saying "and also, that was a stupid question to ask in the first place, not every hero has to be related to some other hero in order to be a hero".

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    4. In TLJ, every time something physically moved between Rey and Kylo, I wanted to echo Han in TFA and shout, "That's not how the Force works!" But if they're a rarity and a one-off, then I'm fine with it.

      I think the whole "Force transporting" thing is a super cool cinematic effect, but I am 100% on board with it only as long as its a thing that only Rey and Kylo Ren could do as a result of the unique relationship between them. My only problem with the "Diad" business is that it made literal something that was already pretty clear: that those two characters, through a variety of circumstances, were linked in the Force in the way other people weren't. I didn't need that to be a thing that was prophesized or theorized about, that Palpatine could recognize. He could have just been like "the bond between you in the Force is strong, and through that bond, I will be reborn!" or whatever.

      It makes me think its similar to the frustration some people had with midichlorians - prior to that, there was a general sense of "some people can use the Force, others can't", but then midichlorians came along and said "yes, but the people who can, are able to do so because they have a higher concentration of this microorganism, and by counting that microorganism in people, we can assign a numeric value to each individual's aptitude of the Force". Nothing had technically as far as some people could use the Force and others couldn't, but something that had been more metaphoric had been made literal, and thereby lost some of its luster.

      For some people. The midichlorian stuff never bothered me, because to me it was the logical throughline of "some people got it, some don't." But I have more sympathy for the people it bothered now after "they're a Diad in the Force" did a similar thing to the previously established Rey/Ren connection.

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  2. There's so much to say about how much I disliked this movie (I agree with almost all of your negative takes as well as a decent number of the positive ones) but more than any one thing, the worst aspect of "Rise of Skywalker" is how incredibly timid it is. Chewie died!? Just kidding. C-3P0 died!? Just kidding. Keri Russell died!? Just kidding. Kylo died!? Just kidding (though he eventually got to die once he fulfilled his Ultimate Cliche Prophecy.)

    "The Last Jedi" took heat for being too ambitious, so "RoS" turns around and makes zero attempts to challenge anyone or risk making a single person mildly uncomfortable. Christ, even Finn's "nohomo" partner had to be black because they gotta be able to pull in that racist dickbag demographic (it reminds me of that line Michael Jordan supposedly said when asked why he wasn't more involved in civil rights: "republicans buy sneakers, too.")

    Think about that for a second: this movie was touted as not just the end of the new trilogy, but the end of nine connected films, and they couldn't even pull the trigger on killing C-3P0. C-3P0, a character who has already had his mind wiped in the past, for poop's sake. They gave him a big, labored send-off, then they re-boot him with a pretty funny running gag of everyone else being annoyed at his blank slate, and they still insisted on bringing him back just minutes later.

    There's so much more wrong with the movie, both thematically and technically, but none of the individual issues I had come close to matching my disappointment at how utterly toothless and spineless the whole thing turned out to be.

    (Oh yeah, and unrelated to anything even remotely Star Wars-related: "Knives Out" is terrific. Tons of fun. Great mystery, damn near a great comedy. Go see it.)

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  3. My List:

    1. The Empire Strikes Back
    2. A New Hope
    3. The Force Awakens
    4. The Rise Of Skywalker
    5. Phantom Menace
    6. Return of the Jedi
    7. Revenge of the Sith
    8. The Last Jedi
    9. Attack of the Clones
    10. Rogue One
    11. Solo

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